The future of transport

The past year has been a rollercoaster ride for transport. On the ground, in the air and at sea, services have been hit hard by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Child running through an airport

In the second quarter of 2020, the world heeded the call to stay home and stay safe. Along the supply chain, national and international travel restrictions disrupted truck drivers, dock, warehouse and delivery service workers, and stopped some factory production for several months.

For many people, the toing and froing in and out of lockdown has made travel impossible. Urban transport usage plummeted to its lowest level in decades, while at national and international levels, research by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) shows that in 2020 there was an overall 50 percent reduction of seats offered in comparison to 2019, and a 60 percent reduction of passengers or 2,699 million people.

Technology in the new normal

No one knows how long it will take for life to resemble pre-COVID times. The new year began with further lockdown measures in many countries, in a bid to keep the virus variants under control. Global vaccine programmes have begun and compulsory measures to stop the spread of the virus on public transport continue to be adopted in many countries, to get people back to work safely.

But what will the new normal be? The pandemic has fuelled the progress and growth of digitalization with unprecedented speed. Technology helped key services, such as healthcare, employment and studies to continue remotely, while a growing number of shops and public transport systems deployed touch-free payment systems to avoid the spread of the virus.

After a year of working from home, many organizations have begun to rethink office space, which could result in a percentage of permanent remote workers and fewer public transport users.

Meanwhile, social distancing and safe, solo travel have led to a boom in bicycles and scooters and a dip in car sales thanks to job insecurity and all-time production lows.

Standards for safe, clean movement

IEC technical committees develop international standards for water, land and air transport, which cover the safety, performance and quality of components for different vehicles and their systems.

In this issue, we learn about a new IEC Standard under development, which specifies hydrogen fuel cells for the propulsion of trains, as well as any rolling stock type of transport, such as light rail vehicles, tramways and metros.

We also examine the positive outlook for electric vehicles (EVs) and learn why they have come out so well during the pandemic.

As airports gradually rebuild working capacity, major investment is underway in automated passenger processing with touchless and mobile services. Around 60 percent of airports plan to roll out biometric gates for self-boarding by 2023, according to the SITA Air transport IT insights report. We hear from an expert about how standards can help improve the security of biometrics systems.

We also look at the essential role IEC Standards already play in contributing towards the development of the next generation of sustainable mobility from personal e-transporters to cars, trucks, trains ships, and planes.

Looking ahead

There is still much uncertainty for transport systems at all levels and many questions remain unanswered. For the time being, the pandemic has changed our habits and made us reassess the way we live and work. Will air travel require vaccine passports in the future? Will company travel return to pre COVID-19 levels or will more meetings be held virtually? Will city dwellers go back to public transport or will they keep their healthy cycling commutes or work permanently from home? Only time will tell if old habits die hard.