Mobility in the new normal (Part 1): Supply and demand

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - May 19, 2020 - 12:00am

As some parts of the country come out of the lockdowns, getting used to the already common terms – from ECQ to MECQ to GCQ, one of the first sector that has everybody’s attention is that of transportation.  But the better, more real and actual; term to use is mobility – how people get out of their quarantine status for two months and start getting back to normal.  Or as everyone say, the new normal.  That means going back to work, restarting the economy, and needing to move from home to work, and back.  Everyday.

But it’s not going to be the same as before. The coronavirus is still out there; we still need social distancing, and that drastically changes the way we move.  Especially people.  So, how does that work?  Well, let’s try to look at the individual parameters of those trips and apply social distancing principles on them.  We can try to add the sanitation and disinfection aspects as well, but separately.  Same as all other commodities, there will be two aspects – the supply and the demand.  We’ll look at them separately, and investigate the supply, first.

The first aspect that draws attention, is the automatic expression that there would be a decrease in capacity.  Maybe it’s automatic because social distancing demands that we space people apart and thus there will less people over the same area of space.  Official guidelines talk about reduction of capacity on the order of 50% or 30% or even lower.  The differences in figures occur because more often than not the object of the numerical descriptors is left hanging.  Are we talking about fleet size, vehicle capacity, frequency, or trips?

The first direct application of social distancing would be vehicle capacity.  If we leave one seat empty for one occupied one, that automatically cut the total capacity by half.  But there are talks of cutting the number of public transport vehicles allowed to run, too.  That will bring the reduction further down.  Now if frequency is also further curtailed, we might end up having a moving capacity of about a range of 10%-15%-20% of normal.  What do you think will happen to the economy?

In reality, if the demand is the same as pre-pandemic days (which we will discuss in the next issue), we still need the same supply – in terms of person-trips to move.  And since our previous status is one of under-capacity resulting in congestion, the need for the new normal is actually to increase capacity and not to contract it!  We can play around with the demand side, and there’s plenty to discuss about it, but it still doesn’t lessen the need for a more acceptable comfortable level of supply.  So instead of decreasing public transport capacity, the need of the new normal is to increase it.  The equally pressing demand for non-motorized transport (NMT) – walking and cycling, which should likewise be pursued, may dampen it, yet it still does provide a reason to cut on capacity.  How?  We’ll discuss next.

To be continued.

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