The Fence

Alyson O’Rourke on COVID-19 and transport


Alyson O’Rourke is the Coordinator of Network Intelligence and Transport Systems for the City of Gold Coast, and we learnt about her role and her career in our earlier interview, Alyson O’Rourke: Game for mobility advances.

It has been a busy time for transport on the Gold Coast, with the 2018 Commonwealth Games held there, the recent introduction of a light rail system, and forging ahead with the Gold Coast City Transport Strategy 2031.

Fortunately for us, Alyson found a little time to provide her thoughts on the pandemic and transport, particularly as pertaining to the Gold Coast.

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

As I venture out of the confines of my home for the weekly ‘essential’ trip to the office, it is easy to see the impacts of COVID-19 on the Gold Coast’s transport network. It is evident by the lack of congestion on our roads during the usual morning and afternoon commuter and school peaks that things are drastically different.

Across the city, traffic volumes have been reduced by up to 40%, leading to a significant improvement in travel times and trip reliability. I wonder, is this new found confidence in our over-achieving transport system sustainable?

The rapid response to the pandemic has seen the City’s workforce adapt quickly to working from home with the introduction of teleconferencing capabilities. This has been effective for office based staff and has provided an insight into how we could create a better future for our city by reducing the number of vehicles and, as a consequence, congestion on our roads – and promising environmental benefits as well as a more sustainable lifestyle and future for the Gold Coast.

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

The City of Gold Coast’s vision is ‘Inspired by lifestyle. Driven by opportunity.’ If there is an opportunity that arises from this experience, it is to evaluate the positive changes imposed by this pandemic and embrace them as we prepare the next generation of our transport strategy and envisage our future. A safer and more efficient transport system is evidenced by sustainable travel modes such as public transport and active travel and less single occupant vehicles on our roads.

What I would like to see continue is families riding their bikes to the local shopping centre to pick up dinner and perhaps an ice cream, office workers utilising technology to attend meetings rather than heading across town for a face to face and people asking themselves the question – is this trip really necessary? Can I achieve my goal without needing to hop in the car?

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

In the short term we are likely to see less public transport patronage as commuters remain cautious. Parents dropping their children at school rather than allowing them to catch the bus. This could result in either an increase in traffic or an increase in active transport – or a combination of both.

The response to the pandemic has proven that we can change our travel behaviour and the hope is that at least some of those whom have invested in a bike or scooter will continue to use this mode of transport.

If this isn’t a catalyst for change, nothing is! As we vigilantly watch what is happening across the globe, we have seen evidence of cleaner waterways and oceans and clearer skies. We can make a change for the better – and the responsibility rests with each and every one of us. The challenge for transport professionals is to find ways of initiating the change.

I truly believe that there will be a shift towards the use of contemporary initiatives such as behaviour change, travel demand management and Mobility as a Service as strategic tools for managing congestion.

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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