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It's only been a few weeks since the roads, trains, and trams of Australia's major cities were jammed with commuters.
But like every part of pre-coronavirus life, it seems like a distant memory.
Everyone wants life to return to normal.
But experts say going back to the "normal" gridlock on Melbourne's transport network is not only unappealing — it's unnecessary.
"We'll end up going back to the same congestion as we had before, unless we change our behaviour," said Jonathan Spear from Infrastructure Victoria.
"We can make a really significant improvement in the transport network."
In fact, post-COVID-19 congestion could be even worse than it was, according to the Grattan Institute's Marion Terrill — especially if people are fearful of returning to public transport.
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"A lot more people are going to prefer to drive. There's just no doubt about it," she said.
Ms Terrill said until a vaccination was developed, public transport would also be much harder to use.
"Each vehicle will only carry a much smaller number of people, perhaps half as many passengers or even fewer," she said.
"As people start to gradually go back to work, it's going to be really important that they do so safely — that there's adequate distance between people, that people wear protective masks, and that they have hand wash stations."
Before coronavirus restrictions, Melbourne was already on a trajectory to becoming Australia's most congested city, with travel times rising faster than any other capital.
By 2036, an extra 500,000 people were expected to pass through the CBD each day.
The City of Melbourne is taking advantage of the lack of traffic to speed up its construction of new bike lanes and other transport works projects.
"As the saying goes, don't waste a crisis," Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.
"We want to welcome people back into our city, and we want to see those numbers again, but perhaps it doesn't have to be the same way that it was."
COVID-19 could be time for a re-thinkEverything we thought we knew about transport has been upended by the coronavirus crisis.
No-one knows, for example, how many people will decide not to go back to the daily commute when restrictions are lifted, after spending months working from home.
"We'll actually see some of that resistance to working from home go away," said Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton.
"And that means we'll get some extra flexibility for the for the workforce to at least spend some of the time working from home, and not adding to that commuting burden."
Marion Terrill agrees.
"There will be a lot of adaptations that people make that will persist, and that will enable us to try things out in a different way in the future," she said.
For years, there have been proposals to try to drive exactly that kind of behavioural change in commuters — like congestion charges in the CBD, and road user pricing.
But few concepts have made it past the think tank stage.
Allure of 'school holiday traffic every day'Jonathan Spear argues the time has come.
"If we introduced transport network pricing, it would be like having school holiday traffic every day," he said.
"We spoke to people before this pandemic, and about one in four of them said they could change the time of day that they travel.
"Now, we've all proven that to ourselves that we can change our behaviour."
Under Infrastructure Victoria's plan, all up-front road charges, like car registration and stamp duty, would be abolished.
Instead, drivers would pay 15 cents per kilometre travelled, and $1 for every kilometre in the CBD.
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On public transport, pricing would vary according to the type of transport used and the time of day travelled.
Jonathan Spear said it would result in an 8 per cent reduction in congestion across the road network, and up to 25 per cent in Melbourne's CBD.
"What transport network pricing will do is it give us all good incentive to think — Do I really need to be making that trip now? Do I really need to drive? Can I do the trip later on?" he said.
But Mr Morton said pricing would not solve problems with the bus system, where services do not run often enough to get people out of their cars.
"So currently everyone's driving to the station and filling up the carpark before 7:00am because the alternatives just aren't up to scratch," he said.
Marion Terrill said making the public transport system safe for users was a priority.
"It's very early days, but we can look overseas at cities that are further ahead than we are and learn from what they have done to help us to get as many people back to work as we can."
For example, New York and Singapore have made it compulsory to wear masks on public transport.
In China, lines are marked on the floor of carriages showing where people can stand.
In Switzerland, bus passengers can only board through the rear door.
Some cities are making far bigger changes.
"One of the biggest examples has been in Bogota, Colombia where kilometres of city street space is being reserved for bikes and pedestrians, and no cars," Ms Terrill said.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the data being collected during this crisis would help to drive those kinds of changes here.
"The way in which we work, our working hours, delivery patterns — those things can make an enormous difference. And we're seeing that on our streets today."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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