Post-COVID calls for “Responsible Transport”

A recent think piece published in the journal of Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives makes a very compelling case for rethinking our current “smart”, “innovative”, and “intelligent” transportation policies. Through their idea of “responsible transport”, the authors want policy makers to move away from the top-down planning approach to a more individual-centric planning attitude, where they want the end user to know the exact impact of their transportation choices before making a mobility decision. 

Using social norms and knowledge to make choices

It’s no surprise that this pandemic has made more people think about the environment than have decades of advocacy against climate change. Not only did social distancing norms motivate individuals to choose active travel over traditional means, it also helped people witness the firsthand results of choosing greener mobility solutions through better air quality, less noise pollution, lower congestion, etc. The authors want policy makers to capitalize on the fact that if members of the public can change their travel and social patterns once for the greater good, they can do it again―and can continue doing it if provided with higher transparency regarding the impact of their choices. The information shared with the user could vary from environmental to equity impacts, and from individual to community-wide impacts.

While this is a fairly new concept that needs to be discussed and thought through in greater detail, the piece has a few suggested starting points for policy makers and the public:

  • employees and employers could consider telecommuting for all traditional in-person meetings and work engagements
  • if physical travel is necessary, individuals could evaluate all possible modes based on their environmental and social impacts
  • like in TDM policies, employees and local governments could require employers to provide incentives for choosing sustainable travel options
  • promoting the idea of a conscious consumer―understanding the impact of expedited deliveries, choosing transport operators that use modern and environmentally efficient fleets, etc.

“Responsible Transport delivers safe, secure and equitable mobility that embeds social, economic and environmental well-being at the heart of post-COVID transport policy, planning and operations and enables individuals to make considered transport choices.”

Challenges and opportunities

A challenge of this approach is the chicken-and-egg problem: that transportation users might desire to use different forms of transport after learning more about the impact of their options, but if safe and convenient options do not exist, this could lead to frustration. The authors, however, believe that this kind of higher transparency in the impact of a user’s decision making, would not only motivate people to make greener choices but it would also put pressure on the local and national governments to invest in and plan for responsible transport policy and provision.