The longer-term impact of COVID-19 is yet to be understood. Regular updates from data tracking websites offer insights into the number of cases, deaths and recoveries across the globe to give some perspective on current events. Is the trend going up or down? What is impacting the figures? Have we reached the peak? There is a genuine need for high-quality information to support policy decisions and influence outcomes, including when to lift lockdown measures – and to what extent.

This whole experience has changed how we live our daily lives in many ways, from access to food and other necessities to our relationship with transport and travel. Companies may opt to allow more employees to work from home moving forward, cutting the cost of expensive office space, resulting in fewer cars on the roads – and fewer people using public transport. With technology readily available to keep employees connected, it means that some organisations can continue to operate their business remotely.

However, many of us will still need – or want – to travel for business or social reasons as life gets back to some form of normality. Of course, recent events may influence when and how we choose to move around and the mobility sector will need to consider any change in behaviour. From the perspective of public transport authorities (PTAs), transport providers and users, accurate and timely data will be critical to support better-informed travel choices, traffic management and infrastructure decisions.

Organisations and governments can play their part by opening up their data to ensure MaaS apps and other transport services can aggregate, combine and share information in a format that adds value to the user and aids the decision-making process. With this in mind, here are seven reasons high-quality data will be increasingly important post-COVID-19 to help people move around more efficiently and safely:

1. Avoiding crowds when travelling on public transport

The experience of overcrowded transport is never pleasant, whether on bus, tube, train or other shared mobility. Being in such close proximity to other passengers is a factor in the spread of diseases such as Coronavirus, and people will be more sensitive to the repercussions of encroaching on personal space. Many will want to avoid crowded transport if it is possible to do so.

Where IoT sensors are present on carriages and coaches, data in MaaS apps can show occupancy levels, including which carriages are emptier with more seats free. This feature is being released by SkedGo at present and can ensure travellers don’t all congregate in the same parts of the train, helping people to maintain a safe distance or at least giving people more choice.

2. Increasing confidence in transport cleaning schedules

Knowing that carriages and coaches are clean promotes traveller confidence when it comes to hygiene. This is one area that’s likely to garner more attention now. Certain tube lines were previously reported to have never cleaned their seats (The Standard, UK) and transport toilets can often leave a lot to be desired. Coronavirus places this front-of-mind as passengers are more likely to be sensitive to cleanliness.

The ability to provide up-to-date information via a MaaS app when a bus or train has been cleaned would be a step in the right direction. It could even include traveller feedback on the cleanliness of transport, similar to star ratings on TripAdvisor and elsewhere. Travellers could then assess whether they’re happy to travel with that provider as well as encouraging operators to address standards of hygiene on their vehicles or stations.

France24.com reported Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo would make hand sanitiser free across its public transport network once the country exits lockdown. Data on the location of these sanitisation points could guide and encourage people to use them when entering and exiting stations.

3. Avoiding rush hour and peak travel times

Many people may wish to avoid rush hour and other peak times where this is possible. Data from sensors at station entrances and exits could indicate the number of travellers and how many people are using other concourse facilities such as food outlets, other modes of transport or people just passing through or using the station as a meeting point.

Information such as this can help to influence which stations an individual wants to bypass as well as which alternative transport options are less crowded. Using multimodal transport with real-time access to data may mean taking an e-bike instead of a tube and using an alternative route that isn’t so congested, taking account of the extra time it will take (or even finding a new shortcut).

For those that have the option to avoid peak hours, being able to see congestion levels (whether on roads, rail or foot) as well as road types, travel flow and speed of traffic means that journeys can be better timed to coincide with quieter periods with the ability to plan, manage and pay for tickets via their MaaS app. In addition, public transit authorities can use the data to make better traffic management decisions such as adding more carriages, encouraging alternative routes or changing pricing structure to reflect demand.

SkedGo’s occupancy and COVID-19 features use open-source data from operators, such as Transport for New South Wales, to present real-time information on passenger numbers and arrival times. Service alerts providing the latest route updates and alternative boarding procedures for trains, buses, trams or ferries are also included.

4. Providing key worker priority on transport

Many providers such as Lime and public transit operators have offered free travel to frontline workers including those in the healthcare sector that are tasked with ensuring essential services continue to be delivered. 

In these situations, data can also offer valuable insight into when and where the transport is required to serve certain sections of the community. This helps providers to plan more efficiently and for workers to understand how to gain access to the various mobility options – something which could be automatically updated inside a MaaS app.

Micromobility, in particular, has the benefit of supporting the need for social distancing whilst still allowing people to move around where necessary. Making these ticketless and cashless also means there is no need to touch or exchange physical tickets. Understanding what (and when) journeys have been made, along with the duration provides insight to help providers better understand activity in their space. 

Likewise, reviewing data to see where needs are not being met is another important part of the equation. The end result is to position vehicles where they can better serve a particular community, making sure the right vehicles are in the right place at the right time.

5. Understanding (and mitigating) risks

Knowing where there are pandemic hotspots, not just at city-level but down to street-level, can help travellers and passengers to avoid areas that might put them at risk. Combining transport, travel, medical and other data to create heat maps can help governments and authorities carry out risk assessments on their transport networks and infrastructure – and supply results to scientists involved in managing the COVID-19 response, as highlighted on Traffic Technology Today.

Seeing movement trends over time and geography can greatly help too. Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports use aggregated, anonymised data to show how busy places are: “(…) this information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.“

“Similarly, persistent visits to transportation hubs might indicate the need to add additional buses or trains in order to allow people who need to travel room to spread out for social distancing. Ultimately, understanding not only whether people are traveling, but also trends in destinations, can help officials design guidance to protect public health and essential needs of communities.”

This type of data is invaluable and if extended further could help to increase safety and security in other areas too such as accidents (transport or otherwise), emergencies and security breaches. This means travellers can prioritise alternative routes or use different modes of transport to avoid problematic areas, with more control over how they move around.

Transport operators can also use the data to decide when to cancel or divert vehicles, avoiding hotspots and keeping traffic moving. Having insight into what is happening on the ground puts governments, PTAs and transport operators in a better position for proactive decision-making.

6. Improving transport accessibility for every citizen

Many factors are involved in ensuring transport is accessible to everyone – and data has an important role to play. MaaS apps can provide details of station entrances and exits that are step-free, the location of access ramps for people with wheelchairs or of limited mobility, as well as platform access without the need to take a lift. 

Being able to arrange assistance prior to arrival and move around freely makes travel more inclusive for all communities – this can include parents with children, the elderly or someone with a temporary injury. 

The opportunities go further. Data about mobility scooters and other transport options for people with limited mobility could be made available through a MaaS app – in a similar way to dockless e-bikes and electric shared cars which are positioned in targeted locations. 

Usage data could help providers to assess the success of their service and whether vehicles may need to be reallocated to other areas that are currently under-utilised. The MaaS app could also deal with cardless payments and verify a person’s right to access to make sure these vehicles are only used by the communities they’re there to serve.

7. Providing more opportunities for active travel

According to The Guardian, Transport for London (TfL) is considering temporarily increasing the size of pavements to support social distancing, helping people using active travel – such as walking or cycling. This could also include changes to traffic light systems so that people can cross roads more quickly and safely.

Data on the location of these footpaths, plus the footfall to understand how busy an area is, could help people make the right choice. This includes being able to plan where they can pick up transport such as a bus, taxi or other alternative modes to manage every aspect of their journey.

In fact, information on all cycle routes, footpaths, walkways – as well as their accessibility and ‘friendliness’ – would make active travel more attractive for people who wish to avoid other forms of transport or to incorporate this mode into their daily travel plans. 

Aggregating the multitude of transport options available into a single MaaS app, makes it easier for citizens to plan, manage and pay for their journeys. When combined with high-quality data – that takes account of broader events impacting travel – not only will we be able to improve the way we move around but also provide insight to help manage and make decisions about major events and crises that come our way. 

Photo courtesy of Pexels

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