COVID-19 & Transport Data

Since the onset of the pandemic, researchers were quick to react and to try and capture the effect national lockdowns were having on mobility and the economy. Depending on the restrictions in each country, High Volume Transport (HVT) funded research found that overall traffic went down between 30% and 85% during the first instalment of restrictions, with the use of public transport also had significantly reduced due to the (perceived) higher level of infection risk. Based on Google mobility data, public transport reduction was found to be 60% to 80% globally by SLOCAT. Further, research conducted by the International Road Federation (IRF) found that for the period of 1st March 2020 to 31st December 2020, the use of transit stations was down by 70% in high-income countries in comparison to the previous year, whilst the reduction was around 40-50% in LIC and LMIC countries, implying different impacts on mobility depending on a country’s income group (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Average mobility development from Google Mobility Data between 1st March 2020 -31st December 2020.
© 2021 International Road Federation, Geneva, Switzerland.

Understandably, the wealth of transport-related data on the incurred impact of the restrictions was much greater in developed nations compared to LICs. In Europe, as national borders tightened restrictions, websites to show the live status of borders and waiting times were quickly released. For example, Sixfold reports waiting times based on location tracking devices in the fleets of some of Europe’s largest shipping companies. In some cases, countries were quick to develop dedicated websites for truck drivers to enable them to know where they would still be able to rest and refuel. 

Another example is the C2SMART COVID-19 Data Dashboard, which consolidates public data sources with the aim of tracking the mobility and sociability impact of the pandemic on transportation systems. For some major US cities (NYC, Seattle, and Chicago) information about subway ridership trends, speeding tickets, or collisions are provided, and for China subway ridership in various cities is mapped out.

The quantity of data available in certain countries in turn allowed policymakers to shape and adapt their transport-related COVID-19 policies as required to support the sector based on hard evidence. Less dedicated guidance and advice for the transport sector was available for LICs. Dalkmann and Turner were among the first to list opportunities for policy makers in Africa, specifically regarding the informal sector, while Peden and Kobusingye addressed the intersections between transport and health to identify areas that require additional research or policy and regulation development.  

Some papers, for example, that of SLOCAT, have benchmarked the global regions using Google Mobility data to understand the commonalities and differences of smartphone user behaviour as a result of the pandemic (Figure 2). They noted that Africa presented the lowest change of mobility to public transport stations, while for driving it showed the strongest regional impact.

Figure 3 Mobility to public transport stations by region
Figure 2: Mobility to public transport stations by region.
© 2020 SLOCAT


Further, HVT observed that informal transport operators in many LIC are facing a complete revenue loss, but so far qualitative assessments using available online sources such as articles, blogs and eyewitness accounts conducted for some countries are more common than specific data points, though attempts have been made to bridge this gap for certain regions. For instance, webinars by the Southern African Transport Conference focused on the impact of COVID-19 in Southern Africa, such as the challenges faced by freight and logistics because of the pandemic.  

Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on non-motorised means of transport, the Walk21Initiative is working on a highly informative report on the impact of COVID-19 on walking and cycling policy and practice in Africa. Further, the European Cyclists’ Federation Dashboard reports the latest data on cycling measures, such as kilometre length of cycle lanes/tracks per city, the number of car-free sections, or the number of wider sidewalks within a city, at (European) country and city level. In addition, data on the planned expansion of the cycle network (km/1M population) and the status of implementation are provided. 

For data on the impact of COVID-19 on transport-related sectors such as the construction sector, urban passenger transport services or road transport, from a labour perspective, refer to the International Labour Organization Sectoral Impact (ILO) section capturing rich information. For data on the COVID-19 restrictions implemented per country see the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Containment and closure policies: Record restrictions on internal movement between cities/regions.
The measure is set in an ordinal scale, with the following coding:
Blank - no data,
0 - no measures,
1 - recommend not to travel between regions/cities,
2 - internal movement restrictions in place.
© 2021 International Road Federation, Geneva, Switzerland.


The International Transport Forum (ITF) published and shared an online meeting series about the transport sector and COVID-19 to highlight challenges that different countries are facing during the pandemic to successfully fulfil decision makers’ needs for transport statistics.

The PIARC – World Road Association regularly host a series of webinars outlining the response of member countries to COVID -19. Topics covered include lessons learned about measures to reduce the negative impact of the pandemic and to outline the way forward; or the impact of COVID-19 on specific sectors such as road safety and infrastructure.  

Last, but not least, the International Road Federation (IRF) is currently working on an HVT-funded project alongside the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety on Africa’s response to COVID-19 and its impact on transport and mobility of people and goods, to obtain a review and overview of policymaking and best practice in several African countries. Preliminary analysis displays that trips to transit stations in the first half of 2020 significantly decreased across all countries regardless of income group. During the second half of the year values were still below the previous year frequency, with the exception of lower-middle-income countries, however, returned closer to the previous year baseline. It is noteworthy that the initial decline in mobility was less drastic in low-income countries, potentially a reflection of the fact that working remotely is less attainable in these countries (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Mobility to public transit stations by income group.
© 2021 International Road Federation, Geneva, Switzerland.