Stay home or stay close

Preliminary findings from a joint survey undertaken by RCGSIDM and the University of Leeds show drastic changes in travel patterns in the post-Covid-19 scenario

For the first time in many years, Bengalis celebrated Poila Baisakh in a way they had scarcely done before – locked up at home with their families but minus the gaiety, the rituals, their unique spread of food or the co-mingling that accompany the occasion. So did Punjabis, Malayalis, Odias, Tamils, the Assamese and many other communities who celebrate April 14 each year as the start of the new year in their respective calendars.

No one knows what will happen next year. But from the data collected by the Ranbir and Chitra Gupta School of Infrastructure Design and Management and the University of Leeds, a picture seems to be emerging about how people will be conducting their life in the next few months, or perhaps for some years, that is, till the threat from Covid-19 does not recede.

Together with the University of Leeds, which is a partner of IIT Kharagpur in the Government of India’s Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC), RCGSIDM has been conducting an online survey to look into how Covid-19 is affecting the travel habits and work patterns of people so as to help the government frame policies for the future.

Dr. Arkopal Goswami, Assistant Professor, RCGSIDM, and the Indian PI of the project says, “As Indians brace up for Lockdown 2.0, a team of researchers from IIT Kharagpur and University of Leeds have been exploring how long lasting could be the impact of CoVID-19 on our travel behaviour. Will it change our travel behaviour forever or will it be business as usual soon?”

Phase I of the survey is over. Preliminary findings from Phase I of the survey show how drastically people are willing to reconsider their preferences with regard to work and leisure in the post-Covid-19 scenario. For example, if there was a reduction of 30% in work/study related activities that required travel in the times that immediately preceded the lockdown, there is likely to be as much as 51%-55% reduction in such activities if the threat from Covid-19 continues.

The non-work related activities, such as shopping, exercise, leisure, etc, is likely to register an even worse decline – from 48% to a whopping 62%-66% if the threat from Covid-19 worsens.

Travel patterns, in fact, might undergo drastic changes with social distancing emerging as the norm. The initial findings from the survey reveal that modes of travel that do not allow social distancing – such as travel by public transport, that is, in autorickshaws, buses, train, or Metro – in fact, even walking, are likely going to become less popular.

Naturally, modes of transport that allows for social distancing – such as personal car, taxi rides, or travel by Ola or Uber cabs – are likely to become immensely popular. However, the initial survey readings from the data show that there is unlikely to be any significant increase in the trip share for the ride-hailing services since people are likely to take “fewer and shorter trips” to procure essential items. The survey shows that people will be unwilling to travel more than 5 kms, and they are likely to prefer either walking this distance or using bicycles, cycle rickshaws, motorcycles etc.

In fact, preliminary findings of the survey show a likely sharp hike – 15% – in preference for e-commerce platforms for purchasing their daily essentials, etc. The increase is also likely to be registered for motorcycle trips.

Among the 19 states and Union territories from which responses were received for Phase I of the survey, West Bengal show some unique traits. For example, according to the findings, if the Covid-19 threat continues or aggravates, there is likely to be a greater increase in e-commerce activities in the state when compared to the rest of India (ROI). In fact, West Bengal is also likely to show an increase in the use of cars (5% increase against the normal scenario), which is a mode that allows an individual to maintain social distance.

The joint research team believes that policies to overcome the crisis while minimizing the disruptions need a good understanding of how different people are changing their activity and travel patterns.

In addition to India, the survey has also been released in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Colombia. The team is also working with partners in other developing countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, etc. so as to tailor-make the survey for their situation and release it there as well. This will enable the researchers to make a comparative analysis of the change in travel and activity patterns across nations.

The team is doing a short follow-up Phase-II survey.

To take the survey, please go to https://forms.gle/jWpXUxAmbQ7UUHAB6

For the preliminary findings from Phase I of the survey, please click on the YouTube video:

https://youtu.be/eJiptWYM38c

 

 

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