Innovations to bring normalcy in a post-COVID world

Indian Railways commenced operations of Mumbai’s suburban rail system on June 15 though in a very restricted and regulated manner. The service is currently catering only to essential services category workers, as identified by the State Government. The system runs with limited passengers per train (lower than the seating capacity) and by following social distancing and other safety protocols. The resumption of suburban transit services, considered the lifeline of the metropolis, is a landmark event in the efforts to get the nation’s wheels moving once again after a series of lockdowns.
Urban mobility is among the dimensions likely to see major changes in the post-COVID world. Some of these may seem transformative or even at divergence with earlier thinking. Take for instance public transport. Inspite of cities urging residents to adopt public transport modes in the past, are we likely to see people shun such modes and prefer personalised modes to prevent spread of the virus? Citizens may also avoid car-pooling and sharing, especially with strangers, out of similar concerns. Cycling and walking may be perceived as ‘spending more time on the road’ and thus more risky. Alongside, as in the example of restarted Mumbai suburban rail, public transport would carry fewer passengers per trip, causing capacity constraints. There will be a need for innovative thinking in order to make public/shared transport safe and preferred – online ticketing and contactless passenger processes, for example. All these will call for large doses of innovation, and technology-driven interventions.
On the plus side, with Work from Home (WfH), online meetings, virtual conferences, and webinars becoming the norm during the lockdown, these may become more formally ingrained in our work lives. This will surely mean reduced travel – both intracity and intercity – and thus take the load off our streets. Alongside local authorities are advocating staggered office timings. Different groups of employees of the same organisation could attend office during different timings and different offices in a location could work to different timings. These measures will help maintain social distancing norms and result in less congestion on roads, in buses and trains, etc.
Several innovations are already appearing to meet the restrictions imposed by the COVID threat. Elevators with foot-operated floor selection buttons and those which enable contactless floor selection, just by waving one’s hand near the button are some. Technology is also being used to make airports safer for passengers and airline staff. Bangalore International Airport Ltd. (BIAL), has, for example, parking to boarding contactless journey where all processes from entry to check-in, to baggage management, and boarding have been made contactless.
In addition to mobility, the world will search for solutions to safely conduct various businesses such as departmental stores, malls, restaurants and multiplexes. Citizens on their part will learn to adopt a safer, more guarded, and compliant lifestyle. Cities will see several transformative upgrades as the world responds to the challenges of safely restoring normalcy in a post-COVID world. The efforts will need to be sharpened till the time we have an effective vaccine and a proven cure.

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