Will Commuting Patterns Bounce Back After Covid?

Photo by Stephen McFadden on Unsplash

By Adi Gaskell

In the change management world, it’s often said that to ensure meaningful and lasting change often requires a “burning platform”. This is an event so severe that it jolts us from our habits and routines and literally forces us to do things differently. It’s probably fair to say that for our working life, Covid-19 represents just such a “burning platform”, with government mandates forcing many workplaces to shut and many workers to rapidly establish a home office.

Data from Transport for London show that traffic volumes on the underground fell to 5% of normal levels during the first lockdown in March and April, with rail travel at similar levels, and bus travel down to around 15% of the normal volume. Even as lockdown measures eased, these numbers didn’t return to normal, with a high of 42% of normal levels reached throughout 2020.

So, as vaccines are gradually being rolled out and we can look with a degree of optimism towards a possible post-Covid world, what might happen to commuting levels when restrictions are no longer in place?

Making changes

Perhaps a good indication might come from a study conducted by researchers at Cambridge and Oxford universities a few years ago. The study examined the impact of another forced change to working patterns, which in this case was a strike by workers on the underground, to see whether the changes forced upon commuters would stay once the strike lifted.

The answer was a resounding yes, and what’s more, the researchers found that not only did people manage to find alternative ways of getting to work, but those ways were also often more efficient than their tried and tested routes from before. All of which actually added up to a benefit to the overall London economy.

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