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Webinar Recap: Waze Presents — What’s next for working and commuting.

Waze knows a thing or two about traffic. Much of what we know is informed by Wazers, our Map Editors and incredible partners from the public and private sector. When we wanted to explore the question of what will happen “when the world starts moving again” we turned to our partners, leaders and experts in their fields, for insights into not just what they think, but what their companies and agencies are actually doing. And of course, we invited our entire Waze community to join us.

The When the World Starts Moving again webinar focused on the topic of Work & Commuting and drew over 1200 registrants from around the globe to hear from Chief Wazer Noam Bardin and a cross-sector panel of experts moderated by Waze Public Partnerships Lead Dani Simons

The discussion included insights from:

The Context

Chief Wazer Noam Bardin helped frame the conversation using data from Waze showing changes in driving as countries put in place various restrictions on movement and now as restrictions are loosed.

According to Waze data miles/km driven dropped up to 95% as COVID-19 travel restrictions and prohibitions were enforced.

The question is, what happens now over the next 12–18 months. Bardin posed the questions:

  • Will the new normal be significantly less driving as people’s employment status might have changed, households might have less disposable income, or the trend of working from home continues for a longer period of time?
  • Or does inexpensive fuel and lower car prices combined with road trips supplanting flights, a fear of public transit and a willingness to travel further for work add up to more driving than before?

How will we get to work?

[Telework] Panel members were in agreement that working and commuting are headed towards a new normal. Tom Harrington, who oversees commuter programs for Inuit’s 9,700 employees at 19 offices in 9 countries, noted that “Prolonged and sustainable remote workforce is here, and here to stay. We believe that 25 to 30 percent of our previously office-based workforce will permanently telework.”

Rob Cary, a 28-year veteran at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) anticipates that adoption of telework will be high for public sector agencies as well. VDOT has 3,500 employees, about half the workforce is currently teleworking and has been able to maintain services from plan review to design and construction to ferry operations throughout the pandemic.

[Transit] But others pointed out that transit still has an essential role to play, especially when it comes to essential workers. Transit Center’s Director of Research Steven Higashide remarked that one thing that has remained unchanged through this pandemic is that public transit is carrying millions of essential workers in health care, food retail, logistics and distribution, just as it did before the pandemic. It is a societal imperative to keep these workers safe and ensure their access to work. SFMTA’s Director of Sustainable Streets, Tom Maguire noted that planning for essential worker access and equity were fundamental to their agency’s COVID-19 driven service adjustments.

“Cities need to carve out space for transit and active transportation now, so when single occupant vehicles come back faster than other modes, transit can be safe and successful,” said Higashide.

Maguire noted that the drop in traffic during San Francisco’s shelter in place period led to better bus speeds. “Our buses are seeing an increase in speed of 10 to 15 percent, we don’t intend to give any of that back,” said Maguire.

Two-Fold Challenges to Bringing Back Transit

Intuit’s Harrington reported that employers are getting survey results that personal safety is now one of the top motivators for choice in transportation mode. That is going to create real challenges for public transit.

At the same time, SFMTA’s Tom Maguire notes that, “There is a lot of uncertainty about transit finances. [Transit] fares, parking, state, and federal aid are all in flux. We have the twin challenge of the public asking for us to play a key role in getting the world moving again and currently running a very large deficit for this fiscal year.”

In Virginia, where toll revenues from managed lanes support regional transit agencies, declines in driving are impacting the bottom line of regional transit operators in the short term with tolls revenues down 90%. If drivers don’t use tolled express lanes as in the future, there could be long term impacts for transit agency budgets. Cary explained, “It’s been said that the Washington Metro carries the equivalent of 20 highway lanes from Virginia into DC every weekday. Metro, Virginia Railway Express, and bus rapid transit are fundamental to the mobility in Northern Virginia.”

Biking and Walking to Work (and to shopping)

Almost 30 percent of land in San Francisco is typically reserved for moving and storing cars. Tom Maguire of SFMTA explained their agency is working on “rebalancing that for sustainable modes and supporting social distancing measures”. The agency is repurposing sidewalks and streets. Four streets have been closed to through-traffic to date with plans for 50 miles of road. These streets provide more opportunity for residents to safely exercise and form socially distanced queues for groceries and takeout today. And they provide important routes for people to safely use non-motorized modes to get to work as businesses start to reopen.

San Francisco, along with scores of cities around the globe are instituting “slow streets” to give more space for walking & biking for recreation and short trips as they begin to loosen stay-at-home orders. [image via SFMTA]

The role of government guidance

As governments start to ease restrictions in some areas of the country, panelists underscored the role of state and local governments in managing any new uptick in cases and potentially enforcing new stay-at-home restrictions, while providing clear guidance on safe behavior for those who are returning to work.

For the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) that has meant reinforcing city and state guidance about wearing a mask and social distancing while outside, including using transit. They are also ensuring that passengers maintain spacing from transit drivers, and that capacity on transit vehicles is limited to allow for 6 feet between passengers.

At VDOT, this has meant altering some of their operations to ensure their own workforce follows State guidance. Road work continues, but with more vehicles on site as it is possible to socially distance doing the work, but not in the cab of a truck.

The role of data & new technology

New data streams can play an important role in restoring the public confidence in transit, according to Katie Monroe, who leads partnerships for Transit. As a multimodal information app used in 200 countries, Transit’s COVID-19 response included launching real time crowding information in April with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, some Bay Area agencies, the Port Authority of Pittsburgh, and Dayton, Ohio with many more cities on deck. According to Higashide from Transit Center, Boston’s MBTA and other agencies are processing their automated passenger count data from buses in hours instead of weeks to make service adjustments to address crowding issues.

As an integrator of multimodal information, Monroe believes, “It’s a huge moment for collaboration between transit and shared mobility services like bikeshare and scooters, to free up space on transit for essential workers and as a back-up plan when transit is at capacity.” Further, mobile ticketing is a feature taking on new relevance for transit and bike share as it will decrease touching of shared surfaces and reduce face to face interaction for ticket sales.

A New Normal

Three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a new normal for working and commuting can be seen out the windshield. Fewer people commuting to work, though perhaps congestion at pre-pandemic levels. Transit agencies are adapting to ensure they can continue to provide access for essential workers and build public confidence in the safety of riding their systems. Companies like Waze and Transit, are partnering with public sector agencies to inform operations and communicate with citizens.

References:

Waze for Cities , Waze’s free two-way data sharing program for governments Working Together to Help Communities Navigate COVID-19, Waze Blog, April 15 2020

Car Boom in Wuhan Holds Out Hope for Post-Lockdown Recovery, Bloomberg News, April 8 2020

SFMTA Slow Streets Program

SFMTA COVID-19 Muni Core Service Plan

Responding to COVID-19 With Agile, Data-Driven Service Changes, Transit Center, May 6, 2020

Transit App’s real-time demand tracker

Who’s left riding public transit? Hint: it’s not white people, Transit Blog, April 27, 2020

You can avoid crowds on public transit with new, real-time crowding info, Transit Blog, April 9, 2020

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