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COVID-19 and Individual Mobility

As recently as December last year, the European consumer protection organisation BEUC published a "snapshot study" which, with the help of a survey in eleven European countries (11,273 consumers), compared mobility habits before COVID-19 with those in October 2020. The study shows that people in the countries expect to prefer individual means of transport (bicycle, car) and more local travel after the pandemic.

A change in mobility habits is most pronounced for public transport, where there is a significant decrease (10 percentage points) in weekly use. Public transport (68 percent) and long-distance buses/coach stations (67 percent) score highest in terms of uncertainty about COVID-19 contamination. They are followed by trains/train stations and flights/airports (61 percent each).

Two recently published studies by the consulting firm Capgemini also show this trend towards individual mobility. According to a survey of almost 11,000 consumers, 87 percent of consumers worldwide prefer to use a private vehicle to travel safely. At the beginning of the pandemic, the figure was 57 percent. In a direct comparison with public alternatives, around 78 percent of respondents also answered that they prefer their own vehicle to public transport. 72 percent said that they appreciate having access to their own vehicle at all times more than before the pandemic. This is also reflected in car purchases. Since April, the share of respondents in Germany who would like to buy their own car in the next 12 months has risen from 35 to 46 percent.

Local and long-distance public transport was reduced and suspended in many places in the wake of the pandemic, on top of that it is also considered to be risky due to the inevitably higher density of people. "What remains is the individual private transport, that is, the recourse to the car, motorcycle, bicycle or walking," stated EAC President Bernd Opolka in April clearly emphasizing, "Individual mobility is today more crucial than ever before. For the absolutely required mobility, such as for the journey to work, grocery shopping or seeing a doctor, there is often times no other alternative for your own car that is equally suitable and useful. You are on your own and can reduce the relatively manageable risk of infection, such as when charging or refueling, to a minimum by observing the known hygiene regulations."

However, it remains to be seen to what extent this trend will continue after the pandemic. There is no question that private transport will play a significant role. However, the future of the private car will also depend on the speed of the introduction of alternative drives, because climate goals and individual transport are only compatible if combustion engines disappear in the medium term. Especially in urban regions, local public transport must also be pushed harder than ever. Intermodality is indispensable in inner cities that are already completely congested and polluted.


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