• Richard Jones

Traditional demand modelling in a post-pandemic future

The pandemic has imposed various changes in people lives, the way business, economy and especially travel is conducted mainly due to travel restrictions and ‘stay at home’ policies. COVID-19 had a major impact on socio-cultural behaviour, where features of home working, homeschooling, retail choices and travel choices from a local and international scale will be understudy to better understand future demand and evaluate the future of transport.

A closer look at the report of Wave 4 of the National Travel Attitudes Study (NTAS, 2021) where 5,299 people completed surveys in the periods of May to July (sample 1) and August to September (sample 2) 2020 indicated a dramatic decrease in demand of trips made compared to 2019 data as shown in Table below.

A significant decrease in sample 1 of 87%, 79% and 69% of a trip made for the reason of eating or drinking, shopping for things and commuting to work was seen accordingly (NTAS, 2021). Furthermore, a trend of different modal choice is seen due to the implications of the pandemic restrictions and social distancing measures.

Also, when asked about their concern about their health using the modes shown in Figure 2 and 3, users consider the use of a car, bicycle and walking as the preferred modes with a low percentage of concern. On the other hand, public transport gained much more scrutiny with the highest share of 90-91% respondents expressed their concern about using the London Underground through periods of sample 1 and 2 (NTAS, 2021).

Figure 2
Figure 3

When users were asked about their mode choice before and after the pandemic intensified an average of 80% reported a fall in use of public transport in modes such as buses, trains and trams, taxi as seen in Figures 4.

Figure 4

As the data indicates, a big reduction in public transport and a big uncertainty of the travel market full recovery to previous levels post-covid is evident. As anticipated in Mott Macdonald’s Report, an opportunity to re-imagine a more centralised public transport system, focused on core services maintained to ensure long-term commercial viability is present. A long-term reduction of travel demand will influence challenges of the need inbuilt of major infrastructure investments such as HS2 where an increase in the rail network capacity will be not required with arguments of cost better spend on the economic recovery.

Future demand modelling should invest in the public transport infrastructure and reassure users of the safety to travel as normal by applying protocols preventing virus transmissions. Moreover, the popularity of the use of private modes of transport for long-distance trips is growing and hence a reduction in public transport should be accounted into future demand models.

Figure 5

As seen in Figure 5 scenarios of increased car use and reduced public transport use is possible as well as the reverse. In my opinion, emphasis on improving public transport should be adopted by adjusting demand models, hence promoting public/shared transport through redefining modal split and trip generations in a post-covid era where technology (e.g. e-commerce) will be of a big influence on the number of trips users make.