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EU Urban Mobility Observatory
News article20 April 20203 min read

20 April 2020 - weekly summary: The impact of COVID-19 on transport and mobility

Residents of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode have asked for streets to be closed to cars, leaving them free for pedestrians and cyclists, much like the examples seen in Berlin, Oakland and New York. Many of the parks have already been closed, restricting the resident’s ability to enjoy the outdoors and get some fresh air and if implemented, this request could give them space to breathe again.

Cycling has experienced a significant surge in popularity since social-distancing protocols were put in place. In New York, cycling over the city’s bridges has risen by 52% and in Chicago, bikeshare use is reported to have doubled in March. With the proven physical and psychological benefits of exercise and visiting green spaces, the development of cycling and walking infrastructure continues during this pandemic. Bogotá is installing tens of kilometres of emergency cycle lanes and Mexico City is currently considering a similar plan. These cycle lanes could even remain after the pandemic, helping cities to reduce their carbon footprint.

On the other hand, public transport has seen a sharp fall in passenger numbers. Transport for London reports that tube passenger numbers dropped by 92% and the number of passengers on buses has fallen by 80%. Due to a reduction in the number of tube operators able to work, services have also been reduced by 30%. In Bucharest, public transport is almost empty with 75% fewer passengers using the subway.

It may come as no surprise that motor vehicle traffic has fallen. In Vienna car and truck use has decreased by 52%, leaving many roads empty and open to the possibility of temporary conversion into pedestrian zones.

With significant decreases in transport use, CO2 emissions have dropped by 58% across Europe. This represents the target we must meet in 2030 and is halfway to the 2050 net-zero goal. The Wuhan metro has recently been put back in service and similar re-openings and an increase in transport options will soon begin in cities across the globe. As a result, national and city authorities will need to consider new rules to enable longer-term social distancing. It is unclear what actions will be taken to accommodate more space for public transport passengers, but some action is expected to reduce the impact of future pandemics. This could result in more transport capacity, a shifting of working times to desaturate peak hours and increasing the number of cycle lanes and pavement space.

In some areas, urban mobility planning has already been affected, with London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone temporarily suspending charges to allow as much mobility as possible for emergency and health sector workers. The Clean Air Zones planned for British cities such as Bristol, Birmingham, and Leeds, amongst others, have been postponed until January 2021.

With more people working from home and using the internet, broadband is more important than ever. In Spain, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation has renewed an order to increase access to ultra-fast broadband. Order PEBA-NGA 2020-2022 aims to reduce the territorial digital divide by providing broadband to current low coverage areas.

Technology is also being utilised in other areas that require essential transportation of goods - Manna Aero offering a drone delivery service in Ireland to deliver medicine to vulnerable people who are locked indoors. China has also begun using drones to deliver medicine and US company Zipline is seeking authorisation from the FAA to launch its own medicine delivery service.

For more information check out the following websites:

For a detailed list of online resources, guidance materials, and COVID-19 related transport and mobility discussions, please see the links in Eltis article Maintaining essential mobility during a pandemic.


Publication date
20 April 2020
  • Resilience
  • Europe-wide