Here or anywhere in the world, Covid-19 has changed behaviors. But the new habits that emerged with the pandemic are also causing profound transformations in the way we view life in urban centers. This, at least, is what the global study “The Future of Cities and the Future of Mobility” that Shin-pei Tsay, Director of Policy, Cities and Transport at Uber, presented at the end of the second day of the Portugal Mobi Summit, revealed.
Cities are now more diversified and their inhabitants are increasingly anchored in their own neighborhoods, but they still seek flexibility in means of transport to move from the center to the outskirts, says the specialist, showing that in cities such as New York, Johannesburg, São Paulo or London, public spaces have become convivial places with terraces, street shops or pedestrian areas: “All these trends will now have to enter the planning of cities with multimodal mobility solutions, not only for urban centers but also for the suburbs.”
What the pandemic has caused, right from the start, is an abrupt break in the movements that used to take place from the peripheries to the urban centres. The suburbs and neighbourhoods, on the other hand, gained more vitality: “Commuting became shorter and more concentrated near the areas of residence, causing a flowering of pedestrian routes, cycle paths or streets open to restaurants and closed to traffic.”
While commuting from financial centers may have declined during the pandemic, in most cases, cross-city trips remained essential routes for workers. These changing mobility patterns must now serve to reflect on how to meet the growing demand for regional transport, not only at rush hour but also during off-peak periods, warns Uber’s Director of Policy, Cities and Transport: “The big challenge now is to simultaneously ensure sustainable mobility options in neighborhoods, city centers and sparsely populated areas.”
Technologies will play a critical role in post-pandemic mobility, argues the expert. More than ever, urban transport services will need “sustainable and affordable alternatives” to serve all communities, including those who traditionally rely on the car for work. “New technological solutions can be a resource with great potential for local operators to increase connectivity in infrastructures that already exist,” says the expert, recalling that the mobility ecosystem has been undergoing profound changes with shared, on-demand and multimodal transport options.
By being receptive to new technologies – says Shin-pei Tsay – public transport operators can strengthen urban mobility, making it more resilient and sustainable. What is envisaged, moreover, is a new decentralised and flexible model, rather than traditional centralised and costly solutions: “Working in collaboration with existing operators, micromobility startups can provide seamless access to existing infrastructure,” concluded.