What is Next on the Horizon?
Envision that, tomorrow, there is a vaccine for COVID-19. Now we can celebrate. Go to our local bar, forget the mask, forget the social distancing. We now have a cure. Likely scenario, right?
Not quite. There will be a long transition time. With the initial vaccine, we probably will not be sure it is 100% effective. There will be precautions that we must continue to take, even if we do have access to a vaccine. The masks and social distancing will be with us a long time. Sorry folks, but that is the reality.
I do not want to be a total downer. As we know, congestion on our highways and byways has been more manageable over the past 5-6 months. Air quality has improved as more people are using telework and/or are spacing out their driving across the entire day, which is a transportation professional’s dream.
As companies are finally taking to telework, let us get back to the scenario that I first described. What will commuters do when the COVID-19 crisis becomes more manageable? If it becomes safe or feasible to go back to the office, will they go back to taking transit, resume their vanpool, continue flex-schedules again, etc.?
My guess is that zoom meetings and working virtually are with us to stay. Workers now have the flexibility to organize worktime at the office and worktime at home for hours that are convenient to them. Businesses have setup telework policies and purchased the essential equipment for the employees to telework, there is no reason to assume that they will totally drop telework with the go-ahead to return to the office. They will continue to practice telework, but for one to two days a week rather than four to five days a week.
So, what happens during the days they do go into the office. Unfortunately, they may forget their good shared-riding ways before COVID and drive in alone. My first reaction is “Tisk, tisk, tisk.”
How will this impact transit? Especially in the beginning, ridership may indeed lag. If that is the case, transit agencies may respond by incorporating more real-time but smaller vehicles into their transit service. You may have heard the word micro-transit.
What will the message be to encourage commuters to consider ridesharing once these strategies are deemed dependable and safe again? Well, in many in
stances, we may not be promoting the use of a vanpool for five days a week. We may be promoting vanpool usage to commuters for two to three days a week since the employee teleworks the other two days.
Of course, matching one rider with other riders who have the exact schedule will be even more of a challenge. Not only do we have to match riders from one location going into the office at certain times of the day, but also certain days of the week. We can assume folks would prefer to telework Mondays and Friday, but not everyone in the company, especially if the company has a relatively small number of employees, may have that option. That is probably the reality that is ahead of us as transportation professionals, we resume the mission to promote ride-sharing post COVID.
Of course, I can only speculate. One thing I can say is that as needs in the transportation system change due to either COVID or advances in technology or both, decision makers must figure how to meet those needs. Even if the conditions constantly change, the goal does not. And that goal is to reduce congestion on our nation’s roads and at the same time make sure they are as safe as possible.