The Covid-19 viral pandemic, with the resulting lockdowns, has produced unprecedented restrictions on freedom of movement and, to a lesser degree, on commercial exchanges. These changes have at times proved to be hinderance to a large portion of society, and to the national economy as well. Indeed, the conditions of the pandemic have dramatically confirmed the role of mobility in society as defined by the needs and practices of movement. While the health and economic consequences have not yet been fully assessed, it is also necessary to analyse the potential effects of this major crisis on mobility practices, which are, after all, the source of nearly 30% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in France. To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the call for more restraints on mobility will no doubt remain acute despite technological advances such as the electrification of vehicles. This necessitates modifications at once complex and variable in time of individual behaviour and collective organisation. In what way is the current health crisis an accelerating, or conversely, an aggravating factor? What lessons can be drawn for public policy?
There are two major time factors for clarifying the critical issues in this exceptional situation:
- Short- and medium-term crisis and post-crisis period: this period is marked by the slow recovery of mobility after the restriction of movement during the lockdowns, by the management of the pandemic according to the immunity of the population, and by the asynchronicity between French regions and between countries.
This management imposes certain restrictive health measures: physical distancing and systematic barrier gestures; compulsory mask wearing; employer certification at peak transport times; tracking and isolation of patients and contact persons, and so forth. All these issues have random or cyclical effects on mobility, depending on the occurance of new waves of contamination, a possibility that can lead to partial or general shutdowns. 2 Some initial observations over this critical period have already made it possible to identify the nature of some of the consequences on mobility.
- Long-term period integrating perennial changes: the duration of the destabilised period determines the actual effect of this crisis in the long term. The variable level of virus circulation, the more or less rapid deployment of a treatment, or a possible vaccine will affect whether the observed changes in behaviour are temporary. And this consideration will affect the long-term development of the demand for mobility, as well as the uses and the necessary adaptation of service offers (and in parallel the control of GHG emissions in this sector). At this stage, only predictions are possible.
We aim to offer some insights and enlightenment on the most salient effects of this crisis, those that could have an enduring influence on mobility behaviour, that may require either the support of public authorities, or the modification of these changes, to promote the most carbon-free mobility.