The Novel Corona Virus aka Covid-19 has seen cities allover the world execute a raft of previously unimaginable restrictions ranging from strictly monitored lockdowns, to curfews and ban of social gatherings of all types.
This started with the city of Wuhan, where the first cases of the pandemic were reported and where the diseases first took on the full shape of a pandemic, at a time when the rest of the world looked and felt sorry for the residents of Wuhan who were forced to quarantine in their city with public and personal transportation severely restricted and public gatherings banned.
The world looked on in horror as the dreaded disease took down Milan, the fashion capital of Italy took a knock and shut its doors as a desperate last attempt to save what was left of the people of the city.
Countries like South Africa, the United States, Nigeria, most of continental Europe enacted varying degrees of restrictions to movements and public gatherings – restrictions that were eased and reinforced as the pandemic’s onslaught and resurgence as was the case in a number of cities, sates and countries, demanded.
The World Bank reports that cities that have been under lockdown or other forms of restrictions and those that have only just started to slowly reopen have seen a spate of social distancing induced preferences for personal mobility methods as walking and cycling over public transport.
Whilst these has led to reduced pollution in most urban centres, it is also a sad fact that most people with longer commutes in cities where lock down restrictions have been significantly eased, have demonstrated a penchant for fossil fuel guzzling and pollutant releasing motor vehicles where they would have normally used public transport in whole or in part for for their commutes, were the need for isolation during travel and social distancing not an overarching need for all. A look at a certain Chinese city reveals pollution levels since lock down was eased that surpassed that of the same period last year, signifying a trend that is both a blessing and a curse.
For cities, municipalities and provincial governments that are opening up now or planning to do so over the course of the next few weeks, there is ample opportunity to leverage the new found albeit forcefully imposed interest in personal mobility options and the more overarching subject of safer travelling. One few ways of leverage this interest include but are not limited to:
- incentivising economic activities that can be completed remotely over those that require in person transactions. This would reduce the need and urgency for travel and consequently reduce the need for choosing between public transit, personal cars, walking or cycling. Of course this will require massive investment in digital infrastructure development spend or incentives for the private sector investment, both of which may lead to unplanned expenses for these governments and may impose some hardship.
- incentivise the use of non-fossil fuel consuming personal mobility choices. This will restrict mobility options to walking, cycling and driving hybrid or full electric cars (the latter contributes to pollution perhaps equally as much as a petrol or diesel powered cars, but their contributions isn’t often as direct as those of petrol/diesel engine vehicles. This may require substantial investments to create new bicycle and pedestrian lanes, and changes to traffic laws that will see non-motorised and electric vehicle mobility options prioritised over their fossil fuel consuming options.
This approach has been shown in some cases to have created wins for all stakeholders – the cities and entire countries and their citizens.
In addition to the contributions required of governments, employers of labour also need to consider newer forms of work and to leverage options that limits employees’ need for travel where required and possible.