COVID-19 Has Drastically Changed Urban Mobility

It is undeniable that coronavirus (COVID-19) changed the way we travel. Specifically looking at cities, the early stages of the pandemic completely cleared out shared public transportation. This included a total shutdown of the London Underground and more infrequent buses available. Citizens turned to walking and bike riding as quick alternatives for short distances.

In India alone, in April 2020, with nearly 1.4 billion citizens in lockdown, local emissions fell by 40% compared to the previous year [1]. But worldwide, a survey conducted by the navigation technology company TomTom revealed that traffic congestion was 10% lower compared to 2019. Out of 404 cities surveyed, 283 of them experience less traffic now than pre-pandemic [4].

From March to May 2020 there was a 95% decrease in underground journeys due to lockdown [6]. Unlike suburban areas, the advantage of cities is the convenience of walking distance. In London, the number of trips by foot increased from 21% to 30% in 2020, a 43% increase from 2019 [3].

Urban transit systems have been structurally affected by the pandemic. Learn more about city living and urban mobility with the University of Pennsylvania’s course Urban Transit for Livable Cities. (Click on image for link).

However, it is important to differentiate the types of walking that took place during lockdown. Walking for leisure and utilitarian walking, which means walking with a purpose such as shopping. Official statistics from the UK Department of Transport stated that utility walking fell 42% while leisure walking went up by 9%. The decrease in utility walking is largely due to people’s inability to get to work [7].

What can be referred to as the “bike boom” has seen major cities rapidly adding new bike lanes to accommodate for increased demand. For instance, in London, between 2020 and 2021, there was a 48% increase in bike journeys and bike journeys accounted for 3.4% of all travel compared to 2.3% from the previous year [3]. Similar growth in Paris has seen the city introduce hundreds of kilometres of pop-up cycle lanes along the Rue du Rivoli [9].

Moreover, to further the trend, the Italian government offered up to 60% cashback up to €500 towards the purchase of a bike [9]. Indeed, governments around the world have encouraged increased bike use, resulting in 4% of American adults reporting having ridden a bike for the first time in a year or longer since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic [2].

Cycling is largely considered one of the most sustainable modes of transportation. Learn more about the immense economic, social, and environmental costs of congested cites with Sustainable Approaches to Urban Transport edited by Dinesh Mohan, Geetam Tiwari. (Click on image for link)

During initial lockdowns, micro-mobility services saw a decreasing user base as riders feared contracting COVID-19 from shared vehicles. In American cities, the number of docked bike-share systems declined from a high of 103 in 2019 to 66 in 2021 as 37 bike-share systems closed permanently following the initial lockdown [8].

However, accessibility to e-scooter, e-bikes, and similar, allowed for quicker trips for essential journeys during the later stages of pandemic. Indeed, according to a survey by NABSA, approximately half of the trips made by shared micro-mobility transport were first-time riders during the pandemic. Bike shares, in particular, saw an increase from 7 million trips in 2019 to almost 10 million trips a year later [5]. This jump in shared bike usage coincided with public transport cuts and hearth fears.

Now shared e-scooters and e-bikes have become considerably a more attractive option than crowded transportation in the eyes of many. Cities such as Hamburg are actively seeking to promote shared mobility in congested areas to avoid crowding on public transit as lockdown restrictions continue to be loosened [9].

Although the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban and semi-urban life may not be known for years to come, health fears and government restrictions have undoubtedly changed the perceptions and sensitivities regarding commuting, public transport, and shared mobility.

[1]iea, “Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2020 – Analysis – IEA,” IEA, 2020.
[2] PeopleForBikes Staff, “How Bicycling Changed During A Pandemic,” PeopleForBikes, Jan. 20, 2021.
[3] TfL, “New TfL data shows huge increase in the proportion of journeys made on foot and by cycle during the pandemic,” Transport for London, Dec. 15, 2021.
[4] TomTom Traffic Index, “As our world changes, traffic tells the story,”, 2021.
[5] NABSA, “2020 Shared Micromobility State of the Industry Report,” North American Bikeshare & Scootershare Association, 2020.
[6] J. Sung and Y. Monschauer, “Changes in transport behaviour during the Covid-19 crisis,” IEA, May 27, 2020.
[7] Department for Transport, “The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on walking and cycling statistics, England: 2020,” GOV.UK, Sep. 22, 2021.
[8] Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “COVID-Affected Micromobility Changes Differ by City | Bureau of Transportation Statistics,”, Sep. 01, 2021.
[9] M. Václavová, “COVID-19 and urban mobility: impacts and perspectives,” 2020. [Online]. Available:
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