Traffic congestion in Australian cities may become worse than before the COVID-19 pandemic partly because of anxiety over public transport hygiene, a transport researcher says.
A survey by the Institute of Transport & Logistics Studies at Sydney University found 84 per cent of respondents considered car travel their most comfortable option, with 42 per cent finding buses the least comfortable, followed by trains at 33 per cent.
ITLS’s Associate Professor Matthew Beck says this indicates anxiety over public transport hygiene could result in more private cars on roads as Australians slowly head back to the office.
“The research shows a current aversion to public transport, and given the increased attractiveness of the car, as bio-security becomes an attribute in mode choice, if we are not careful we can expect to see congestion at levels even worse than before the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Prof Beck echoed comments this week by Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on the need for people to keep working from home as coronavirus restrictions are eased, and for businesses to stagger work hours of staff needing to travel.
Social distancing requirements in workplaces won’t allow all workers back into offices for a while, Prof Beck said, giving time to introduce measures to make people confident about public transport.
Options include showing images of “deep-cleaning” at bus and train terminus locations at the end of every run, as well as hand sanitising stations on platforms and inside carriages or buses.
He said all travellers wearing face masks – as required in some countries – could also help.
Prof Beck acknowledged while working from home “is not for everyone”, it has long-term benefits for roads.
“All it takes is a 10 per cent reduction in congestion in the peak and the whole system flows much more easily. Everyone can see that the roads are less congested around Christmas; that is just a 10 per cent reduction,” he said.
The ITLS survey of more than 1000 Australians in the first half of April also found average weekly household trips had dropped to 11 from 23.9 before the pandemic.