Response Options to a Transport Disruption

Response Options to a Transport Disruption

a. Monitoring and assessment

In any unusual emergency, situational information is crucial. Those involved can develop their own solutions or alternatives, such as postponement, modal shift, or merely forfeiting a trip if it is discretionary. If properly informed, consumers and supply chain managers tend to act rationally, which may lessen additional disruptions, damage, and even injuries and the loss of life. Depending on the risk factors involved, it remains fundamental to monitor the situation and assess which parts of the system can be brought partially or wholly online as soon as possible. This, combined with accurate information releases, institutes public confidence that the crisis is well managed while conveying patience and goodwill from those impacted. Even the admittance that limited information is available can be useful as it conveys the message that a disruption has complex ramifications. However, transportation infrastructure operators can be unwilling to share information about the impacts of disruption on their capacity and operations since it can underline existing weaknesses and have competitiveness implications.

b. Support impacted actors

This strategy applies mostly to passenger transportation. For commuting, there should be short-term alternatives to having to commute to a location that is now difficult to access. This can involve teleworking strategies, the postponement of non-essential work tasks, or the setting of alternative work locations. Freight mobility is concerned to the extent that those impacted are likely to need basic supplies, shelter, and fuel.

For long-distance movements, particularly for intercontinental flights, there will be stranded passengers with no alternatives, at least in the short term, to head back home. Many may be facing financial difficulties as their travel was budgeted, accommodations paid in advance, and thus have limited means to cope with the additional costs involved. An alternative lodging market should be made available so that those with stretched means can opt for simpler accommodations, down to a cot provided for free in an airport terminal corridor.

c. Removal of discretionary demand

Disruptions, complete or partial, always result in much more transport demand than supply. This should imply a sharp rise in fares, leaving those willing to pay such a high price able to travel or having only the most critical freight being carried. However, since airfares or containership slots are booked in advance at a locked price, discretionary travel may remain even when the system is disrupted, particularly when the disruption is over. However, demand is still facing severe backlogs. Incentives should be provided to remove as much discretionary demand from the system as possible while the disruption and its consequences last.

An effective strategy concerns creating a capacity-swapping market, particularly with the help of information technologies. For instance, an airline could contact ticket holders for specific flights and ask them if they could purchase their tickets back at a higher price (or in exchange for a voucher for a future comparable trip) and then resell those tickets at a much higher price on the current market. Those willing to travel at the current market price would thus be able to bid for a seat, and those traveling for discretionary purposes are compensated for opting out. Airlines would thus be able to recover some of the substantial losses in revenue they incur during such disruptions by maximizing their revenue on existing flights. For humanitarian reasons, such as reuniting families or accommodating persons with medical conditions, seats can also be made available by swapping arrangements between high-priority passengers and those being more flexible. A swapping market can also spontaneously emerge through online social networks.

d. Modal shift

Ideally, passengers or freight mobility should shift towards modes that have a higher capacity and resiliency. However, if a public transit system is shut down because of a disruption, it can take several days to be brought back online. Meanwhile, those seeking to commute may be forced to use their automobiles (and carpool), where they would be using public transit under normal circumstances. This exacerbates congestion and may even lead to fuel shortages. For air transport, since most movements remain regional in scale (city pairs of less than 1,000 km apart), it can be expected that passengers will switch to alternative modes, which can be ill-prepared to deal with the sudden demand surge. The market for alternative modes mostly concerns the automobile, rail, buses, and even ferries where the situation warrants. Those alternative modes must react quickly by adding as much capacity as possible, which may occur more effectively if those contingencies are planned in advance.

A convergence of passengers towards terminals (rail and bus stations) can create undue crowding and queuing, which could be mitigated by using satellite travel arrangement facilities where passengers could be offered a range of multimodal options that could be booked. Then, a passenger would only need to show up at the terminal before boarding time. There is also a substantial opportunity to remove discretionary travel on alternative modes by creating swapping markets for passengers willing to trade their tickets in exchange for a monetary sum or a voucher valid for future travel. There is, therefore, an opportunity for the alternative mode to gain market share once the crisis is over.

For freight, modal shifts over long distances are possible strategies, particularly if it concerns more resilient modes such as rail or maritime transport. For short distances, such as deliveries or terminal hauling, modal shift is less likely since there are limited alternatives. Therefore, deliveries need to be postponed, consolidated, and prioritized. The outcome can be a lack of several consumption goods in local markets.