Focus on: Freight and passenger transport

As outlined below, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the movement of goods and people in Australia. We explore some possible longer-term public policy implications for freight and passenger transport.

24 April 2020

The freight task

The coronavirus pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for Australia’s freight transport network, with a sharp increase in demand for essential supplies and a major decline in air freight capacity. The pandemic has reinforced Australia’s reliance on freight to keep the economy going, along with the need for a harmonised, national approach to intermodal freight regulation.

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted freight operators, regulators and policymakers to consider the resilience of Australia’s freight transport network. Work was underway to reshape supply chains to maximise productivity and this work is now likely to include preparedness for major disruptions in the future. Australia’s first National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and associated National Action Plan, released last year, may offer a mechanism through which to pursue a coordinated national approach to these challenges, including the harmonisation of freight regulation.

Passenger transport

There has been a significant drop in demand for public transport over recent weeks, with a growing number of people working from home and restrictions on non-essential travel. In NSW, 16.9 million public transport trips were recorded in March, down from 60 million trips the previous month. In response, some state governments have reduced public transport services to cut costs.

Looking overseas, coronavirus has changed the way people get about, with many opting to cycle or use ridesharing services in a bid to avoid public transport. Demand for taxis and ridesharing services has dropped substantially in Australia, with Uber competitor Bolt shutting up shop at the end of March. Data from ridesharing company DiDi reveals that weekday trips now outstrip weekend journeys, with passengers visiting supermarkets, shopping centres and hospitals instead of bars and restaurants.

Some public transport advocates anticipate more people will choose to work from home on an ongoing basis after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, while others expect an increase in the number of people driving to work rather than taking public transport. We can be certain that passenger transport will look very different for the foreseeable future.

A key challenge for state governments, as contract holders and operators of public transport services, is how to reallocate under-used resources in the network to not only maximise patronage but facilitate the social benefits of passenger transport.

Isuru Neelagama is a Director – Public Affairs at GRACosway. He is an advocacy, policy leadership, corporate affairs and government relations executive with particular expertise in freight, planning, transport and logistics.

Contact Isuru on +61 451 005 661 or Contact Us


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