Reimagining mobility and access during a pandemic

  • Focus
  • Sunday, 02 Aug 2020

COVID-19 has made us change the way we look at travel quite extensively, with sustainable mobility and access to local services becoming even more essential in urban areas. We have to give special focus to improving these areas or urban living particularly if we hope to improve resilience during times of pandemics.

In the city context, there’s been a shift in public transport ridership, observes Urbanice’s Yasmin Lane.

Urbanice was set up by the Housing and Local Government Ministry in June 2016 to promote sustainability and climate-responsive urban development.

“With new policies to ease car ownership, I’m afraid we’ll see more cars on the road by the end of the year. Many cities around the world have taken the opportunity to go all out with pushing the use of personal mobility devices and walking, realising that the safest way to travel (besides in a private car) is to be outdoors, ” says Lane, a senior executive focusing on Communities and Projects.

Apart from increasing our carbon footprint, vehicle emissions contribute to air pollution which can exacerbate the respiratory effects of Covid-19.

“Yet still not enough attention is given to reducing cars on the road and promoting sustainable and equitable mobility that could make people healthier, happier and create resilient cities in light of future pandemics, ” says Lane.

The importance of access to local services had also become apparent during the movement control order (MCO) period.

“We realised not everyone lives within close proximity to a grocery store, pharmacy or a park. Most people need to drive and quite often enter a shopping mall to get their basic necessities. The concept of local grocery stores, those ‘aunty-uncle shops’ that have struggled to stay afloat competing with bigger supermarkets really showcased their value in light of this pandemic, ” she says.

Lane explains that these local shops do not just provide daily supplies but can also serve as a focal point for the community.

“I think this pandemic has made knowing your neighbours and the community around you really vital, and the ability to walk to local shops and amenities helps us connect better to all these things better, ” she adds.

Achieving sustainable mobility starts with education.

“Drivers need to be taught to respect other users on the road to make people more confident to cycle and walk to their closest public transit or shops, ” she says, adding that schools should increase education programmes and workplace incentives can be introduced to encourage the use of public transportation, walking or use of lightweight vehicles.

“The supply of bicycles and e-scooters can be done by shared mobility companies such as AnyWheel or Tryke with the input of local authorities. When more people are seen using lightweight vehicles with ease and confidence, it will induce more people to do the same. This will hopefully create communities of users who support each other and fight for a better ecosystem, ” she says.

In order to do this, there has to be the right infrastructure and protected bike lanes as well as strict enforcement.

“Going back to ensuring that everyone’s voices are heard, it’s really important to make sure the most marginalised and vulnerable members of our society, often those who do use public transport most, are involved in the process of planning and developing this new infrastructure, ” she says.

As for local shops, attention needs to be given to support these shops and provide affordable rent for such entities as they offer many layers of services to the community, says Lane.

“Political will is crucial for this but again it has to start with people wanting these things too, ” she says.

According to Lane, some other examples of services that must be localised and accessible are day care centres and local food chains and supplies.

“It’s a big shift in how we channel our money and efforts, but the economy and what’s best for ways of living really can’t be separated, especially if pandemics are here for a significant period of time.”

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