The beginning of a new year is always the opportune time for prognosticators and would-be seers to come out of the woodwork and cast their eyes into possible trends for the future. This New Year is no different despite emerging from what many observers called the “Annus horribilis” that was 2020 in which COVID-19 dominated the news cycles and cast its cloud of doom in everyone’s lives. But we are resilient and we are able and ready to look beyond the darkness into the light that 2021 brings. And you are not alone in thinking that there is a silver lining behind our present predicament.
The opinion survey organization Social Weather Stations (SWS) has been polling the nation’s views on a variety of subjects for decades. The SWS measured a “net personal optimism” among the respondents in its November 2020 poll and it came up with what it considered “very high” at plus-35, compared to minus-19 in May, minus-10 in July, and plus-2 in September. In the midst of the lockdown, with all its restrictions on the movements of people, with all the business closures and job losses, with all the cancellations of church services and holiday celebrations, the quarterly surveys during this year showed a steady improvement in the people’s “personal optimism”.
So, here’s a toast to everyone’s good health in this new year and let me look briefly at some of the emerging trends that might impact the way we move about or travel in the year(s) to come. Firstly, because of the safety concerns brought about by COVID-19 and the way it spreads, there will be a continuous demand or if not steady growth for “transportation on demand” which is your Grab rides or Uber before it and even the motorcycle based Lalamove, Joyride and thereabouts. These “bespoke” transport services are made possible by easy and convenient electronic or IT systems that have made converts of even the old generation resistant to any technology changes.
The lessons brought about by the rapid transmission of the COVID-19 virus led people to seek a safer transport by using their private car more often but there are problems associated with clogging our streets such as pollution and fuel costs that make this option unsustainable. Hence, transportation on demand. A survey in another country conducted in April 2020 revealed that 90 percent of these ride app users were satisfied with the service as it is convenient, simple to use and flexible.
There were two population segments who were most satisfied: the under-30 age group, who seek independence in their mobility and are receptive to the app (e.g. students without a driver’s license or non-car owners) and the 30-60 age range, part-time or shift workers, some without their own means of transport, or parents of teenagers with transportation needs. And we can adapt a similar setup in our shuttle buses and even jeepneys here: passengers appreciate their flexibility, and although it means travelling with other people, vehicle capacities can be dynamically adjusted to meet authorities’ regulation on social distancing on-board.
Another transport option which we mentioned before is micro mobility services such as bicycles and scooters for rent, where the traveler may be a “single occupant,” but uses a non-congesting, non-polluting means of transportation (compared with the private car). Studies done in the EEC indicated a slight increase in modal shift for metropolitan regions such as more unique clicks recorded on the link “how to rent a bike,” for example. Solving the first- and last-mile problem and activating intermodal travel helps to improve the use of public transportation in places where passengers, for reasons of convenience or lack of knowledge, would otherwise use their private car. Perhaps our own DOTr should look and explore this micro mobility mode and allow for an IT based rental system in which users can pick up and drop off a bicycle or scooter near a bus or train station as they do in Europe—a useful means of mobility in our suburban areas or nearby provinces.
Finally, the future of transport is digital. Our social institutions and regulatory frameworks should be ready for the future of transportation that will include vehicles as computers on wheels, autonomous aerial vehicles, the hyperloop for long-distance transport, greening, and energy efficiency of the highest order, advanced traffic management to preclude jams and gridlocks, unprecedented speeds, accident-free thoroughfares, and fully integrated multimodal transportation. The digital age will empower the traveling customer and disrupt how transport providers operate and manage their services. We are not adapting the Internet to our lives; we are actually living on it right now as we speak.
Peachy Vibal – Guioguio is a PR strategist who has lead communications departments in GMA Network, ABS-CBN, and TV5. She enjoys long drives, taking scenic routes, and finds a thrill going wherever she pleases behind a wheel. She has yet to learn how to replace a flat tire.