The COVID-19 pandemic has spread rapidly across the world. We have already seen a huge number of infections and lost many valuable lives. This has become the biggest challenge to human society since the Spanish Flu in 1918, over a century ago. Now in the twenty first century, the whole world is connected to each other by much more convenient transport systems and information networks than at any time in history.
The transport sector has been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, it unintentionally contributed to the spread of the virus through passenger travel, while the disruption to supply chains undermined economic activities in some sectors. On the other hand, transport is an integral part of solutions to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, for example through the delivery of humanitarian goods and services and to facilitate resilient supply chains for the recovery phase. The World Conference on Transport Research Society (WCTRS), the largest and most comprehensive academic society of transport in the world, has established a Task Force to investigate the impacts of COVID-19 and support emergent policy decisions on ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and maintain supply chains for the survival of industries and lifelines for citizens’ daily life.
DIVERSE RISKS IN TRANSPORT
The risks in transport are diverse, from international to urban transport and logistics, and from infrastructure to economy and daily life, as shown below.
Airlines can transport infected passengers from one side of the world to the other, within half a day.
Passengers in crowded public transport are more at risk of infection than automobile users.
It may be recommended for citizens to temporarily shift from public transit to cars to avoid the risk of infection. However, this may become a permanent change in transport behavior even after COVID-19 has been eradicated.
When gathering for events, people may be cautious about crowd density in the event venue but may not recognize the high risk of infection during travel to the gathering.
Reduction of passengers may bankrupt the transport and tourism industries, thus worsening the regional and national economy.
Infections among operational staff and reduction of transport services will lead to the collapse of supply chains and consequently lower the productivity of industries.
Lockdowns have increased pressures on the supply chains of vital goods for medical care and for citizens’ daily life.
There is increasing evidence of health risks to staff providing essential transport services.
In developing countries, paratransit and other informal transport services are very popular because of their low fares and flexibility, but both passengers and drivers face high risks of infection because drivers are poorly equipped and operate in close proximity to passengers.
MEASURES & ACTIONS for CONSIDERATION
To allocate enough resources to allow airlines to immediately reduce flights, which will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and enable a responsible and safe transition in the recovery process.
To financially support the deficit facing the transport and logistics industries, which are lifelines for regional economies and citizens’ daily life and health.
To take immediate measures to sanitize public transport vehicles/facilities and maintain safe loading factors for different vehicles at different levels of virus management.
To financially support public transport service providers and their employees, as well as service users, by subsidizing services during the transition from lockdown restrictions.
To urgently develop knowledge on how best to communicate with the public about risks and safe use of public transport and movement in crowded places.
To promote collaboration between public health, transport and supply chain experts to inform policy-makers’ decisions about lockdowns.
To make use of the “new normal” after COVID-19 to encourage changes toward more environmentally sustainable life and work choices after the crisis.
To prevent increased car dependence due to adverse reactions to public transport services after the pandemic.
To share the learning of successes and failures in responding to COVID-19 across countries all over the world.
To provide urgent international aid to compensate operators/drivers of paratransit and other informal transport services in developing countries for their economic losses due to social distancing and other operational restrictions.