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Welcome to our new normal…

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In the past couple of weeks our day-to-day lives have been turned upside down and inside out. We’ve been told to ‘stay at home, save lives’and gradually more strictly-enforced lockdowns mean that the vast majority are working from sofas or hastily-constructed home offices as the coronavirus pandemic has exploded worldwide – its RNA structure seemingly making it remarkably easy to catch but very difficult to kill.

We’re not commuting, holding meetings (in the traditional sense), visiting clients, friends and loved ones or travelling abroad; public transport services have been reduced for all but our most essential workers. Many operators are reporting ridership levels that are 80-90% down on the norm, and in our new surreal situation they are actively encouraging people not to travel – don’t use trams, avoid the metro, stay away from buses unless absolutely necessary.

Terms like Zoom and social distancing have become part of the new everyday lexicon for all, most of us are now living almost entirely online (and seeing what everyone else’s kitchens and living rooms look like).

We have been catapulted into this situation by Covid-19 as data and connectivity have become our biggest assets. Our interactions with technology are becoming increasingly invisible, with good 4G and Wi-Fi becoming life’s new essentials and critical to our day-to-day functioning.

Changing our view of ‘community’
Conversations are still being had, but many have taken a different tone.We should all give ourselves credit that, so far, the majority of our work discussions have focused less on lost productivity and more on genuine concern for the well-being of colleagues, their mental health and the side-effects of isolation and change to the established routine. At the same time we are getting used to talking to each other honestly and openly again, and creativity and co-operation are thriving in many areas.

Our concept of ‘community’ is being reshaped before our very eyes. We’re confronting a global challenge, but at the same time we’re acting very locally by looking after the elderly, less mobile, the key workers who are keeping us all safe and the transit workers who are ensuring their easy movement.

For some there is simply no choice – their jobs cannot be completed online. Cleaners, doctors, nurses, emergency services, childcare professionals, mechanics and engineers, construction workers and maintainers, tram, bus and delivery drivers – the list goes on and on. The professions that allow society to run smoothly and safely are the very ones that are being most acutely impacted.

Where do we go from here?
Scientists and economists are now predicting that we’re in this for the long haul. A year that started with such optimism will likely now be a year of managing decline and forging those strong relationships so that in 2021 we have the chance to stabilise, recover and rebuild. But whether the dramatic changes we’re currently seeing are forever depends on our response to thisrapidly-evolving environment.

These unique circumstances give the public transport sector a unique opportunity to pause, reflect, and reassess our place in the world – and how we will help to shape its future. One side says that investment may well be diverted as revenue forecasts are recalculated as part of the rebuilding process.For some they will make sobering reading. Dramatic reductions in revenue may need to be offset by reductions elsewhere to deliver the same service, and we could well see an acceleration of plans to automate many elements of transport operation and maintenance.

Authorities and project promoters will need to carefully consider both short-term cash reserve strategies at the same time as implementing revised credit and debt refinancing programmes. Emergency grants and government-backed loan facilities, where available, will be vital to getting us all through these challenging and unpredictable times.

Clouds / silver linings
The alternative view suggests that key projects could be accelerated to leverage cost-saving opportunities, pooled resources and joint procurements. There are other silver linings, too. While the global pandemic is devastating, it has afforded us a snapshot of a potential future where the air is cleaner, our roads are less congested and efficient, electrified public transport is given its rightful – and often overlooked – place as a crucial part of society.

As we’ve careered headlong into a version of a more sustainable, tech-driven future this could be the chance to hit reset button. If it wasn’t already apparent, we all now realise that our shared knowledge is our biggest asset.These things will not only improve our ability to rebuild faster, they will also prove key to keeping our decision-making sharp and focused as we all deal with a multitude of challenges – many of which aren’t as yet known.

There is a strong possibility that we will all emerge bleary-eyed from our social distancing into the sunlight with a new perspective on how we move from A to B and how we spend our time. It seems we all may have underestimated the significance of physical interactions and it it’s important we don’t lose sight of their value, both for work and pleasure, as we get used to the surreal and temporary forced removal of human contact.

It’s good to talk…
As our diaries have cleared, we’ve been having more conversations than ever – developing some fascinating insight through open and honest dialogue with authorities, operators and suppliers all over the world. Over the coming weeks we’re going to share with you some of the things we’ve learnt from those who have been prepared to share as we all plan for the future.

If you want to find out more, please do join us for a chat by our ‘virtual coffee machine’ – if for no other reason than to give us all a few minutes respite from the incessant news of coronavirus…

Stay well.

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