Public transport after the pandemic

Public transport after the pandemic

Q&A: Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, CEO, Siemens Mobility Canada
Governments are set to invest in a new mobility future...

In your view has the appetite to invest in mobility infrastructure projects increased or reduced this year?

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need to invest in infrastructure. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it will help economic recovery. Governments will use large public transport infrastructure projects as job creation tools. Before the pandemic, investments were often based on well-known policy objectives, such as the fight against climate change, productivity of the economy, and safety. Today, the #1 policy objective is economic recovery through job creation.

 

Secondly, governments take a long-term view on policies and investments. The question, therefore, is not whether people are using public transport today, but will they in the future? Do we really believe that people will not go back to public transport after the pandemic? The population will continue to grow and urbanize and the ability to build more roads is limited in urban areas. Public transport is the only solution to get people in and out and around cities. Governments will keep their long-term view on this and continue to invest in infrastructure to move people around efficiently, safely, and economically.

 

Government policies are slow to change. The advantage of this is stability but, equally, the disadvantage is stability! Decision making processes are slow and tedious, but governments are spending public money and due process is an essential part of awarding contracts. The situation with COVID-19, however, has stalled economies and there is an urgent need to re-stimulate for growth. In Canada, some legislation has been introduced to accelerate approval processes and clear the way to get infrastructure projects moving.

To what extent do you think governments will change their mobility strategies in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mobility, a bit like running water or electricity, is taken for granted. The pandemic has made us realize that, as a service, public transport is more essential than we ever imagined. Public transport may look different in a post-COVID-19 era. The effects of the virus may mean increased frequency of services to allow for social distancing and to avoid overcrowding, this in turn will reduce the potential for diseases to spread. This would mean more comfortable journeys, something that may attract more customers. The strongest pull of using the car is that it’s ready when you are. Having services that run more frequently, will mean the convenience of public transport will increase, bringing it closer to the convenience of individual transport modes. 

With the reduction in air travel can rail 'pick up the slack' from short haul flights and provide a viable alternative?

With investment, rail certainly could become a viable alternative to air travel for distances less than 500 km. Inter-city trains would need to deliver enough frequency and speed to make them more attractive than using a car and offer a service that is price and time competitive compared with taking a flight. The use of Inter-city trains will be accelerated by the development and deployment of ticketless systems and travel planning apps.  We need to remember that if we are to stimulate economic recovery people need to work. Therefore, the opportunity for rail in this market is much stronger, especially since the introduction of additional security and health measures at airports.