To contain the current COVID-19 health crisis, the adoption of appropriate measures in public transport is paramount. The ERTICO Academy in collaboration with the EU funded SOLUTIONSplus project hosted a special focus session on this issue. Public transport representatives from Hamburg, Madrid and China and an expert on the topic from UITP shared their experiences in the management of pandemics. Data management, mobility monitoring and disease spread patterns are useful tools in crisis management strategies. Looking ahead, the future of public transport and the implications of COVID-19 on the sector still remain uncertain.

“Public transport,  a significant player in the mobility ecosystem, is facing enormous challenges in the current health crisis. Therefore, it is essential that we create a dialogue and provide a platform for them to exchange best practices”, says Emily Hemmings, Manager of International Cooperation at ERTICO. “A key priority for ERTICO is to achieve full integration of e-mobility solutions that will reduce traffic congestion and increase the use of low-carbon and low-emission mobility solutions. With growing urbanisation this is a prerequisite leading to high-quality travel for businesses and optimal accessibility for all citizens.”

Public transport operators are implementing enhanced safety measures, especially relating to staff protection and cleaning techniques. Communication measures directed at staff and travellers have been adjusted, advising people not to travel when sick and to abide by social distancing rules. “COVID-19 has seen a dramatic effect on public service use. On average, travelling has decreased by approximately 70%. In some cases we have had reports of up to 95% reduction. This results in heavy financial losses for a lot of organisations. In spite of this, public transport services are still being run at 50% of what is considered to be a normal working day”, explains Mircea Steriu of UITP, the International Association of Public Transport. With more than 1600 member companies worldwide, UITP has sent a survey to its members to assess the situation. When it became evident that the virus would have significant global consequences, UITP published a factsheet with guidelines for business continuity plans to deal with this respiratory disease.

Measures taken at airports have been crucial in the containment of the virus. Mr. Xu Yong, Vice President of Eastern Airports, Jiangsu province shared the measures taken, following Chinese Government guidelines, in the seven airports of Jiangsu Province. These measures include taking staff and passenger temperatures and putting in quarantine those who exhibit a temperature of over 37.5° including passengers sitting in proximity to the sick person on the airplane. Staff must report their own and their family’s movements within the last 14 days before coming to work, and new cleaning and rubbish disposal procedures have been put in place.

With Spain being one of the most affected European countries, strict confinement rules apply, which also affect the transport sector. EMT, Madrid’s Public Transport Company, created in 1947, operates and manages the whole network of public urban buses in Madrid city. In addition, it offers other public mobility services such as parking facilities, tow trucks, the bike sharing system BiciMAD and the cable car system. “Usually, we transport up to 1,6 million people per day by bus. Due to recent developments transport demand has dropped more than 90%”, highlights Sergio Fernández Balaguer, International Project Manager at EMT. The company has reacted quickly to the unexpected situation with new measures, such as the adaptation of services and schedules. “Our main takeaway from these past weeks is that setting up a coordination team that can react quickly is key and that cooperation amongst administrations and institutions is really essential”, summarised Fernández Balaguer. “The future of public transport and shared mobility services is faced with a considerable uncertainty. People may be switching to more individual transport modes for fear of infection.  As of now we cannot predict how public transport services will be used once confinement is over.”

In Hamburg, the circumstances are different. The city has shown a relatively low amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases and many people are still commuting to work. “Of course, we comply with social distancing rules”, says Britta Oehlrich, Head of Change and Innovation at Hamburger Hochbahn. In a normal situation, the publicly owned organisation operates busses, subways and ferries with 2,5 million passengers daily. Given there is a high decrease in the number of public transport users, public transport operators and other stakeholders are experiencing losses. “Micro-mobility sharing model providers are also facing financial difficulties due to this downturn in use. However, I do hope these transport on demand services continue to remain available to complement the public transport services that we have on offer”, states Oehlrich.

To date, there is uncertainty about how the (urban transport) world will look like – after this COVID-19 health crisis has been resolved and how people will return to a „new normality“. This webinar shed light on public transport measures undertaken across Europe and in China and gave a keen insight into newly introduced processes that will stay in the long term.

SOLUTIONSplus, an EU-funded project has the goal of paving the way towards innovative urban e-mobility solutions in large urban areas in the EU and to assist developing countries in meeting sustainable development goals. With participation in this project ERTICO supports capacity building and the uptake of e-mobility solutions through innovative start-ups and scale-ups.

To find out more about ERTICO Partnership’s work in the SOLUTIONSplus project, please contact Giacomo Somma or Emily Hemmings. To learn more about the ERTICO Partnership and how you can benefit from teaming up with ERTICO, please contact Cordelia Wilson.

Watch the full session below. Registrations for the next webinar on “ Smart City/IoT”, organised on 24 April, are open here.