Monday, 25 may 2020 | Brenda Rodríguez López
Scientists, experts and epidemiologists are working around the clock these days in order to combat the pandemic in an effective way. A significant part of their job consists in understanding how the virus could spread so quickly and exponentially in just a few months. Most analyses point out that mobility played a key role in the expansion of COVID-19. While we move by train, bus, car or plane, the virus does so by human transport. As its favorite choice of vehicle, we have to reflect on how we should move in these times of pandemic and how we will continue to do so once this crisis ends. Will the "new normality" bring about a new paradigm in the world of mobility? How will the automotive sector experience this transformation?
For some years now, the automotive industry has been betting with greater conviction on a new approach of mobility with a greater focus on the needs, concerns and expectations of people and less on the private and exclusive ownership of vehicles. In this vision, cars are no longer in the spotlight and the sector is embracing new trends such as electrification, connectivity, self-driving cars, on-demand mobility, the reinvention of urban transport and sustainability. The concept of "new mobility" is not really new for the automotive world. However, this extraordinary situation may transform the way in which we now understand it.
This new scenario, known as the "new normality", has led us to undertaking a process of reinvention. For over two months, we have been buying, studying and working in a different way. Nor have we been moving the way we used to before the pandemic broke out. This is an extraordinary situation, and should not be considered insignificant. As in many other domains, this pandemic is bringing to light the strengths and weaknesses of new forms of mobility, and this may make many things change.
Will the "new mobility" become even newer now?
Assuming that no one has yet, at least so far, invented a crystal ball that really works, we can only venture to predict what will happen in a future based on what we now know. However, there are many clues that we can find in the changes that are taking place. Most of them are caused by one-off measures aimed at containing the virus temporarily, but they may also cause structural changes in the field of mobility.
Cities are changing
The quickest changes that cities have experienced these days are those related to the maintenance of social distancing measures: safe areas, separations in banks, provisional bike lanes, etc. Nevertheless, it is these changes, which take the longest to implement, that may have the greatest impact on the design of new mobility forms like the decentralization of neighborhoods, the creation of new green areas or the design of more open spaces.
Citizen behavior is also an essential part of this equation. It is possible that, due to fear of contagion, the population will prioritize the use of private vehicles and that some families will decide to move to less crowded places (something that might be favored by a long-term commitment of some companies to telework). All this will foreseeably have an impact on the design of urban transport (less crowded/packed and more spacious and adaptable), the promotion of alternative means of transport (like electric bicycles, motorcycles and e-scooters) and the commitment to safer and more flexible mobility.