The Fence

Nirajan Shiwakoti on COVID-19 and transport


Dr Nirajan Shiwakoti is Program Director of Sustainable Systems Engineering, Program Leader Urban Transport and Senior Lecturer at RMIT University.

We interviewed Nirajan last year about his background and career in Nirajan Shiwakoti: Deep thoughts about surface transport, and he has kindly agreed to be interviewed about the biggest story in transport (well, the biggest story in everything right now), the impact and effect of COVID-19.

What are the main effects or changes due to COVID-19 that you’re seeing right now in transport?

I noticed following changes in our transportation systems:

  • Vehicular traffic has reduced substantially
  • Can’t see regular peak hour vehicular congestion
  • Increase of pedestrian activity and bicycle users
  • Empty buses running, few passengers in trains
  • Empty airports
  • Lowest fuel price since I came to Australia in 2007
  • Increased hygiene maintained in transport modes
  • Less air pollution

What changes would you like to see in transport when the world rights itself post-pandemic?

I think the transport operators, planners, decision makers need to seriously think about how to handle the transportation system (including supply chain) when similar pandemic occurs in future. I think we were not well prepared for such pandemic.

Scenario analysis in transportation planning should consider these pandemic factors. Traditionally, the scenario analysis is more focussed on addressing uncertainty regarding land use patterns, population size, economic characteristics, lifestyle factors, etc. We have seen how these factors can be significantly affected due to the pandemic like COVID-19.

And what changes do you think will happen in transport post-pandemic?

I think in the short and medium terms, people will travel less. This may be: more people working remotely, avoiding business travel through on-line conferencing, conferences providing virtual attendance, etc. This, accompanied by slow economic growth, may lessen the transport system’s environmental impact in the short term. There may be decrease in public transport users and people opting for more private and personalised travel (e.g., cars, walking, cycling).

Airline industry may continue to suffer in short and medium term. Very high hygiene practices may be introduced in airports, airplanes and public transport in general. Passengers may be more comfortable in travelling through trains and airplanes that are not full. Passengers flying with middle seats empty could be a norm in short term, which may mean there may be higher airfare as airline needs to recover the cost of seat loss. However, the competitiveness of airline industry may mean increasing the airfare may not be feasible for some airlines.

Maintaining the level of passenger crowding inside train carriages and gaining passengers’ confidence could be a challenge to the train operators in short term. We may see re-allocation of road space for cyclists and pedestrians. Already come countries have started to act on it during the COVID-19: with New Zealand providing significant funding for more people friendly spaces; Milan, Italy going for transformation of several kilometres of streets that will prioritise walking and cycling; Paris, France rolling out several hundred kilometres for emergency bike lanes.

There may be re-think on the resiliency of the supply chain system and ensuring that industries would not struggle to obtain the raw materials or other components to their manufacturing plants or businesses.

Like this interview? Click here to see the rest of our interviews about the effects of COVID-19 on the transport sector.

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