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In the weekly ‘follow-up’ section we present a sequel to last week’s best-read article here on Innovation Origins. This week centers on Jan Wouters’ column where he discusses promising developments within the automobile industry. But what influence is corona having on these developments? Will our mobility start to look much different? Or are we going to end up back in traffic jams on our way to the office?

Pieter Rahusen, a business developer and responsible for acquisition at the Automotive Campus in Dutch city of Helmond, hopes that those times are over. “People have begun to think differently in the past three months. What used to be considered impossible is now simply happening. Just look at education as an example. Almost everything has been transferred to digital formats. That takes some getting used to and requires adaptability. Even in other industries which were previously skeptical, now see that they can continue to get their work done just as efficiently as before.”

More people want to work from home

According to Rahusen, this has resulted in some 20 to 30% of workers who would like to keep working from home more often, even after the corona crisis. “This has an impact on how we structure mobility. It could be a solution to the congestion problem.” Rahusen explains that this won’t happen on its own. He advocates a system wherein people are financially stimulated to leave their cars at home during busy times of the day.

“We know a lot about and measure a lot of traffic flows and congestion on the road. This kind of data is the new fuel for the automotive industry. It means you can make recommendations and agreements on how to use the road network more flexibly. It wasn’t at all strange to sit in the car for three hours for a one-hour-long interview before corona hit. Now that we have seen that a large proportion of meetings can also be held by phone or via Zoom, we have to ask ourselves whether we really want to go back to the old situation.”

Smarter and more sustainable

As crude as it sounds, the corona crisis has also taught us some positive things. Rahusen: “By not being stuck in traffic jams, people are less stressed, have more time to spare, and reduce emissions by a huge margin. As a society, we are now being forced to face the facts about the impact on the environment. In Venice, for example, the rivers are clear again. You don’t need to have studied mathematics to understand that it is a good idea to restrict air traffic. This crisis teaches us that we need to deal with mobility in a smarter and, above all, more sustainable way.”

In this case, the office should serve as a meeting place, where people come to brainstorm about new projects, for example. “Talking to your colleague on a screen all day doesn’t work either. Sometimes you just have to see each other in real life. In the future, offices will become more hotspots for meeting each other in a safer way. That’s what the Brainport region has traditionally been very good at when it comes to campus thinking. This is where companies, knowledge institutes, training institutes, and government get together. These are parties on the Automotive Campus that strive for cleaner and smarter transport”.

Fewer traffic jams and empty trains

Before the corona crisis, it was assumed that high levels of traffic, transportation, and mobility go hand in hand with a well-functioning and growing economy. At the same time, this has led to higher social costs when it comes to delays due to traffic jams and crowded trains. Now that the economy is slowly picking up again, Marcel Michon, managing partner of Buck Consultants International in Nijmegen, The Netherland, says that we should look for a mobility system that does not impede the economy but deals with transportation in a smart and measured way.

“Corona woke us up. It is, of course, a disaster for the economy. Many sectors have taken a direct hit to their wallets. But when you look at the effects it has had on mobility, the corona crisis has eased the pressure quite a bit. Trains are not as crowded and traffic jams have virtually disappeared. It is in the national interest to try and keep it that way post-corona as well. The key question, obviously, is how are we going to achieve that?

Mobility as a Service

According to Michon, there are all kinds of ways to do this. Some of which were already in the picture before the corona crisis. He himself is a member of the Smart Entry to Cities group of experts, where various companies, knowledge institutions, and governments meet to work on mobility issues.

“Take Mobility as a Service (MaaS), where work is already underway in many various gradations in order to alleviate the pressure on the mobility network. Corona has accelerated this process. It has gained in importance: companies, organizations, and employees have suffered enough from it. We are looking for solutions through the Connekt network, but it is still hard to say exactly what it will look like once the corona crisis is over.”

Set of measures

In this respect, several large companies are already working on a long-term work-from-home strategy. Michon: “Teleworking will become a part of our new lifestyle. Companies can arrange for the majority of their meetings (when it is not absolutely necessary to be face-to-face in person) – to take place digitally from now on. Several organizations are considering holding physical meetings exclusively early on in the afternoon.”

He adds, “it is a good thing for companies to map out how their traffic flows. Such as goods, people, and visitors – are run. This will allow them to improve things with a set of measures. E.g. teleworking, car-sharing, public transport, or allowing employees to come to the office on a more flexible basis. By mapping out the current patterns, you are also able to apply targeted measures.”

Although, the effectiveness of these measures should be properly tested well in advance. ” During a transition, you have always got to try things out. Introducing something en masse to the general public makes no sense if it is not widely supported. That is why it is so important to set up good pilot schemes for viable new business cases.”