Potential impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the future of travel demand

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Greg Marsden


The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically cut the amount people travel, with possible long-term effects on demand. Greg Marsden of the University of Leeds says civil engineers need to reconsider how they plan future transport infrastructure accordingly.

The global introduction of lockdowns in 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented shift in travel behaviour. In most countries only essential travel was allowed with small amounts of localised exercise. What can civil engineers learn from this and how will the adaptations made by society during the pandemic impact future needs for travel?

The first thing to observe is that it is not just the past few months which provide a learning opportunity, but the many months and possibly years ahead where people will need to continue to practise social distancing. The impacts are profound and start with the activities people take part in, the reasons why they travel.

Pubs, restaurants, cinemas, shops, employment sites, gyms, schools: none will be able to accommodate people in the numbers they used to. In Milan and Paris, immediately after the relaxation of restrictions on such places, traffic congestion levels increased 5–7% over the preceding week but still remained at half of 2019 levels (Tom Tom, 2020a, 2020b). People will all be travelling less often for many things for a considerable period to come.


Marsden, G. 2020. Potential impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the future of travel demand. Civil Engineering, 173 (3): 99-99. doi: 10.1680/jcien.2020.173.3.99