Pandemic, war and climate: transport in times of crises


This analysis seeks to unravel the intricate web of factors influencing mobility in the wake of three transformative events - Covid-19, Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, and the climate crisis. These events have had a profound impact on the way we move, and it is essential to understand the evolving patterns of travel, the resilience of transportation systems, the role of technology, and the policy responses that have emerged to address these challenges.

Teaser Image Caption
Mobility hub in Stuttgart-Vaihingen station.

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The world has been through a lot of crises in the past years, and the way we move around has been affected by a confluence of events that have shaken up our assumptions about mobility. The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most significant disruptors, transforming our cities and towns into ghost towns as nations went into lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. The pandemic has also accelerated the trend towards remote work and digital connectivity, forcing us to re-evaluate our assumptions about how we commute, travel, and socialize.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we must assess how these changes have become permanent fixtures in our mobility landscape. For many, the pandemic has highlighted the benefits of remote work and reduced commuting, leading to a shift in attitudes towards public transport and active travel. However, the pandemic has also exposed the inequalities in our mobility systems, with essential workers and those without access to private transport bearing the brunt of the pandemic's impact. 

Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine has added another layer of complexity to the mobility landscape, disrupting trade routes and redefining regional mobility dynamics. The geopolitical turmoil stemming from this conflict has brought about new security concerns and triggered a reassessment of cross-border travel and transportation networks.

The pandemic as well as the war have also highlighted the importance of resilience in our mobility systems, as disruptions to global supply chains have exposed the fragility of our interconnected world. 

However, perhaps the most significant challenge facing our mobility landscape is the looming climate crisis. The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and urgent action is needed to decarbonize our mobility systems. The shift towards electric vehicles and active travel is a positive step, but more needs to be done to promote sustainable and equitable mobility options. 

The past few years have been a transformative period for human mobility, driven by a confluence of events that have challenged our assumptions and highlighted the need for resilience and sustainability in our mobility systems.

As we navigate the new normal, we must continue to adapt and innovate to ensure that our mobility systems are fit for purpose in the face of the challenges ahead. Climate change has become an urgent issue that we cannot ignore any longer. The catastrophic consequences of this phenomenon are becoming increasingly apparent, from extreme weather events to rising sea levels. The world is facing the pressing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the way we move - by land, sea, and air - is being scrutinized for its contribution to the problem.

Governments, businesses, and individuals are exploring ways to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt more sustainable practices.  

This analysis seeks to unravel the intricate web of factors influencing mobility in the wake of three transformative events - COVID-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the climate crisis.

These events have had a profound impact on the way we move, and it is essential to understand the evolving patterns of travel, the resilience of transportation systems, the role of technology, and the policy responses that have emerged to address these challenges.

Impact of crises on mobility and transport: Imminent or permanent

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global mobility, leading to a significant reduction in travel and transportation activities. It has also highlighted the importance of resilient transportation systems that can adapt to changing circumstances.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an oil and gas crisis that has impacted transportation and energy prices. This has further exacerbated the cost of living crisis that is affecting every aspect of people's daily lives. 

Technology could be considered a crucial enabler of sustainable mobility. Electric vehicles, smart transportation systems, and digital platforms are revolutionizing the way we move and enabling us to adopt more sustainable practices.

Governments and businesses are also implementing policies and strategies to promote sustainable transportation, such as investing in public transportation, promoting active mobility, and adopting low-emission zones. 

Understanding the profound changes in mobility is not just a matter of practical importance but a critical component of our collective response to the evolving global landscape and looming climate crisis.

Europe and the world find themselves in a time of multipolar crises, and it is vital that we adopt a holistic approach that addresses the interconnected challenges of climate change, energy security, and economic stability.

By embracing sustainable mobility, we can build a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable future for all. 

The ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine has caused a great deal of instability in the region. It is therefore unlikely that any changes regarding the supply with resources will be forthcoming.

The current leadership of Russia has ceased their chance to be a viable partner, and their actions have led to a breakdown in diplomatic relations. 

The COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh has not produced the wished-for results to initiate an immediate change in the climate policies of the biggest emitters.

This is a cause for concern, as climate change continues to be one of the biggest threats facing the planet.

While the Covid-19 pandemic led to changes, these have not proven to be permanent.  

With the bicycle gaining in popularity, cars remain the most popular mode of transportation.

The impact of the prevailing crises is diverse, depending on whether the focal point is the goods or passenger transport.

As elaborated in other articles in the EU Mobility Atlas, transport across the Union is diverse, and different modes play a different role across the continent, due to geographical, demographic, political, and historic reasons.

It is important to take these factors into account when considering the future of transportation in the EU. 

Shifting habits

The appearance of Covid-19 and the consecutive lockdowns and travel restrictions have led to a relevant decrease in all modes of passenger transport. Furthermore, there has been a shift from shared modes of transport, such as public transport and planes, towards individual modes of transport such as cars and bicycles.

This has had a significant impact on the transportation industry, as well as the economy as a whole. 

The illegal Russian invasion in Ukraine has resulted in higher energy prices, which has had a cross-sectorial impact. This has led to a decrease in economic activity, as well as increased costs for consumers.

The consumption of energy is an essential part of human life. Even simple activities like cycling and walking require energy. The cost of energy has a direct impact on the cost of living. Higher energy prices lead to a cost of living crisis that affects everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status. Whether it is the cost of food, electricity, or fuel, the impact on people's daily lives is significant. 

The climate crisis is another pressing issue that requires immediate attention. The shipping sector in the Baltic Sea has been at the forefront of using more climate-friendly fuels.

However, despite the efforts of some operators the majority of ships still rely on diesel as it is cheaper than LNG and. Emission restrictions in the Baltic Sea are relatively strict, but in international waters, crude oil remains the number one fuel for cargo shipping.

This is a major concern as it contributes significantly to the emission of harmful pollutants that damage the environment. 

The Covid-19 pandemic, Ukraine crisis, and climate crisis have led to a change in people's habits. There is a growing willingness to change individual habits, which is reflected in polls.

Tax the rich or tax the polluters?

The political actors have a crucial role to play in influencing citizen's habits. The most obvious means of doing this is through taxes.

By imposing taxes on activities that contribute to the emission of harmful pollutants, governments can encourage people to adopt more sustainable habits.

For instance, taxes on fuel consumption can encourage people to switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles or use public transport.

The differences in fuel pricing between member states in the European Union reflect the varying fuel taxing policies implemented by each country. This, in turn, influences the modal share of battery electric vehicles across the EU.

While private cars remain the dominant mode of transportation, countries with a well-established rail and coach infrastructure, such as Czechia, Hungary, and Austria, have a higher modal share of rail and bus services. 

However, for too long, Western European countries have prioritized policies that encourage private car ownership. Only Sweden has a lower modal split of passenger cars than the EU-27 average, with a higher modal share split of buses, coaches, railways, and trams than the EU-27 average. 

In terms of freight transport, while there was a decrease in passenger transport at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis in 2020, freight transport almost remained at a normal level.

This highlights the importance of freight transport in maintaining the economy and supply chains. 

Fair costs – fair mobility?

Over the past three decades, the costs associated with mobility have undergone significant transformations.
The increasing prices of fuel and public transport tickets have made mobility more expensive for individuals and businesses alike.

Fuel pricing policies and transportation infrastructure play a significant role in shaping the modal share of different modes of transportation.

Prioritizing sustainable transportation options are necessary to reduce carbon emissions and promote a cleaner environment.  The evolution of mobility costs has been an ongoing issue, with changes in fuel prices and environmental considerations driving much of the transformation.

During the 1990s, fuel prices were relatively stable in many parts of the world. Factors such as steady oil production and geopolitical stability contributed to a consistent, if not low, cost of gasoline and diesel. Consumers during this period could rely on consistent pricing, making it easier to budget for transportation expenses.

However, the present-day fuel landscape is characterized by volatility, with fluctuations in oil prices driven by geopolitical tensions, supply-demand imbalances, and environmental concerns leading to erratic fuel costs. Consumers have faced sharp price increases during certain periods, leading to a greater financial burden on car owners and industries reliant on transportation.

 Additionally, the growing emphasis on eco-friendly transportation has given rise to alternative fuels and electric vehicles, which, while reducing environmental impact, may carry higher upfront costs for consumers.  The changes in fuel prices have had a significant impact on transportation costs, with the price of gas and diesel being a major factor in the cost of owning and operating a vehicle.

In addition, the increasing emphasis on environmental concerns has led to changes in public policy, with governments around the world increasingly looking to reduce emissions and encourage the use of eco-friendly transportation. As a result, there has been a shift towards electric vehicles and alternative fuels, which can be more expensive than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.  Another area where we have seen noticeable changes in transportation costs is in public transport ticket prices.

In the 1990s, public transport was often considered an affordable and accessible option in many regions. Governments frequently subsidized public transit, keeping ticket prices relatively low. This approach aimed to encourage the use of public transport as a means to reduce traffic congestion and environmental pollution. However, in recent years, we have seen changes in public policy, with some governments reducing subsidies and increasing ticket prices. This has made public transport less affordable for some consumers, particularly those on lower incomes. 

The evolution of mobility costs has been shaped by a range of factors, including changes in fuel prices and environmental considerations

As we move forward, it will be important to continue to monitor these trends and work towards sustainable and affordable transportation options for all. 

The cost of mobility has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. The advent of market-based pricing models has led to an increase in ticket prices in some areas, particularly in urban centres with high demand for public transportation services.

This shift has been further amplified by the integration of technology and modernization of transit systems, which have led to new fare structures, including distance-based pricing and contactless payment options. 

Several factors have contributed to the increased costs for mobility. Global economic factors, such as the fluctuating economic conditions of the 21st century, including recessions and recoveries, have had a profound impact on fuel prices and public transport funding.

Economic downturns can lead to reduced subsidies for public transport and influence consumer preferences for more fuel-efficient vehicles. 

Moreover, environmental concerns have heightened awareness of climate change and environmental sustainability, which has driven initiatives to reduce carbon emissions from transportation.

This has translated into incentives for electric vehicles and stricter emissions standards, potentially impacting fuel prices and the types of vehicles available. 

Innovations in transportation technology, such as electric and autonomous vehicles, have introduced new possibilities but also incurred research and development costs that may affect vehicle prices.

These technological advancements have also raised questions about the future of jobs in the transportation industry and the potential for increased automation. 

The cost of mobility has shifted significantly between the 1990s and today. Fuel prices have become more volatile, and public transport ticket prices have experienced changes in affordability and pricing structures.

The future of mobility is uncertain, but it is clear that economic, environmental, and technological factors will continue to shape the way we move. 

As the world continues to evolve, the need for efficient, accessible, and sustainable mobility becomes increasingly essential. However, the ongoing energy crisis has brought to light two critical societal issues: transport poverty and transport justice.

These issues are closely linked, and addressing them requires thoughtful and equitable solutions to ensure that access to transportation remains accessible and fair for all.  Transport poverty is a situation where individuals or communities are unable to afford the costs associated with essential mobility.

The energy crisis exacerbates this issue in several ways. Rising fuel costs due to energy market fluctuations increase the financial burden on individuals who rely on personal vehicles for transportation.

Low-income households, in particular, feel the pinch as a larger share of their income goes toward fuel expenses.

Public transportation systems, which are often considered a more affordable option, are not immune to the energy crisis. Higher fuel costs can lead to fare increases, making public transport less accessible for economically disadvantaged individuals. 

Transport justice

Transport justice focuses on the equitable distribution of transportation resources and benefits across society. In many parts of the world, transportation infrastructure is unevenly distributed, with some regions having more access to transportation resources than others. This lack of access to transportation resources can result in social and economic exclusion, as individuals are unable to access job opportunities, education, and essential services.

Thus, it is essential to ensure that transportation resources and benefits are distributed equitably across society.  To address these issues, policymakers and transport planners must develop strategies that prioritize sustainable and equitable transportation systems. This may involve investing in public transportation infrastructure, promoting alternative modes of transportation such as cycling and walking, and implementing policies that reduce carbon emissions and promote environmental sustainability.

Additionally, policies that provide financial support to low-income households to help offset the cost of transportation may also be necessary.  The ongoing energy crisis has brought to light these critical issues of transport poverty and transport justice. Addressing these issues requires thoughtful and equitable solutions that ensure access to transportation remains accessible and fair for all.

By prioritizing sustainable and equitable transportation systems, policymakers and transport planners can create a more just and sustainable future for all.  The issue of transportation and its environmental impacts is a complex one, with far-reaching consequences for both individuals and communities.

One of the most pressing concerns is the disproportionate burden that low-income communities often bear when it comes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. This is due in large part to their proximity to highways and industrial areas, which can result in higher rates of respiratory illness and other health problems. 

In order to address this issue, it is important to look at ways to increase access to alternative transportation modes. However, for disadvantaged populations, this can be a significant challenge. Upfront costs for electric vehicles, for example, can be prohibitively high, while limited access to charging infrastructure and unreliable public transit services can make it difficult to participate in the shift towards greener mobility. 

Financial support or incentives for using more fuel-efficient or sustainable transportation options, helping to alleviate the financial burden of rising fuel costs for low-income individuals and families can be part of the solution.

Another approach is to increase funding for public transportation infrastructure and services. This can help ensure that affordable and accessible transit options are available to all, reducing reliance on personal vehicles and mitigating environmental impacts.

In addition, community-driven initiatives such as car-sharing programs can empower disadvantaged communities to address their unique transportation needs while promoting social and environmental sustainability. 

Finally, it is important for policymakers to engage with marginalized communities and advocates for transport justice when designing and implementing transportation policies. This collaborative approach can help identify and address the specific challenges faced by these communities, ensuring that the transition to more sustainable transportation is both equitable and effective.

The reliance on traditional transportation methods has led to various challenges that must be addressed to ensure a sustainable future. These challenges include transport poverty, transport justice, and environmental sustainability.

To combat these issues, it is crucial to prioritize affordable, accessible, and sustainable transportation options that promote social equity. 

Encouraging the adoption of sustainable transportation options through incentives, subsidies, and infrastructure development can simultaneously combat transport poverty, promote transport justice, and contribute to environmental sustainability.

This can be achieved by implementing policies that prioritize public transportation, cycling, and walking over private cars. Investing in public transportation infrastructure, such as trains, buses, and trams, can reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, while making transportation accessible to all members of society.  Promoting cycling and walking as alternative modes of transportation can have significant benefits for both individuals and the environment. Cycling and walking are low-cost and low-emission modes of transportation that promote physical activity and improve public health.

By expanding cycling lanes and pedestrian zones, cities can make these modes of transportation safer and more accessible, encouraging more people to adopt them. 

The ongoing energy crisis has underscored the importance of addressing transport poverty and transport justice as critical societal issues. The solutions to these problems should prioritize affordability, accessibility, and sustainability, recognizing the interconnectedness of transportation, energy, and social equity.

By taking a holistic approach to these challenges, societies can work towards a future where transportation is both inclusive and environmentally responsible.

Regions in crisis


Scandinavia, known for its efficient and sustainable transportation systems, has not been immune to the transformative forces of the recent global crises—COVID-19, the Ukraine crisis, and the climate emergency. These crises have ushered in a new era for transportation in the region, challenging its resilience and sustainability while inspiring innovative responses. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world, Scandinavia faced a significant shift in transportation dynamics. Lockdowns and social distancing measures led to a dramatic drop in commuter traffic and a surge in remote work. In response, Scandinavian cities adapted quickly, expanding cycling lanes and pedestrian zones to accommodate the growing numbers of urban cyclists. Public transport ridership saw declines but also prompted a renewed focus on digital ticketing and touchless payments to enhance safety.

The Baltics

The recent geopolitical tensions and energy supply fluctuations have not only affected the Baltic States' trade routes but also their transportation system. The region's extensive trucking industry has been hit hard by the fluctuations in fuel prices, especially diesel and natural gas, which have raised operational costs.

High-speed rail projects have also gained renewed attention, offering a more sustainable alternative to air travel within the region.  Despite the challenging times, the Baltic States have displayed remarkable adaptability in navigating these crises. They have leveraged their strong foundation in technology and innovation to find sustainable solutions to their transportation challenges.

The interplay of recent global crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine crisis, and the climate emergency, has had a profound impact on the Baltic States. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented disruptions to daily life and economies worldwide, and the Baltic States were no exception. The initial response saw strict lockdowns and border restrictions, which impacted the flow of goods and people. Transport between the Baltic States and their European neighbours faced interruptions, affecting trade and supply chains.

The Ukraine crisis, due to the shared borders with the Russian aggressor, had direct effects on the Baltic States' transport sector.

Geopolitical tensions disrupted traditional trade routes and energy supplies, prompting a reassessment of the region's energy security. The Baltic States accelerated their transition to renewable energy sources and diversified energy imports, reducing dependence on potentially volatile energy suppliers.

Additionally, the crisis raised concerns about the security of Baltic transit corridors. Investments in transportation infrastructure, including ports and railways, were redirected to enhance resilience and minimize vulnerabilities in the face of geopolitical instability. 

With the aim of providing (sustainable) alternatives to road and air travel and to improve the link to the European partners, initiatives such as Rail Baltica have received renewed attention.

Central Europe

Laying a focus on Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, stands at the crossroads of Europe, making it a key player in regional transport networks. Like all other European countries, these nations have faced a complex tapestry of crises in recent years.

The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a profound blow to transportation systems across the region. Governments implemented lockdowns and travel restrictions, leading to a temporary drop in commuter traffic and tourism.

Due to the joint borders of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary with Ukraine, the Russian aggression poses an even bigger challenge to the transportation infrastructure in the region. With tensions running high, the Visegrád Group faced the daunting task of maintaining essential supply chains while ensuring the safety of their citizens.

As in the Baltic states, the transportation sector has undergone significant changes in response to recent crises. The detachment from its historical linkages towards the east have accelerated in all states that were formerly part of the Warsaw Pact.

Additionally, the Ukraine crisis brought with it a number of geopolitical challenges that affected trade and energy supply routes, posing particular challenges for landlocked countries in the region. In response, these countries have invested in alternative energy sources and cross-border energy infrastructure.

This has not only addressed concerns about energy security, but also helped to maintain reliable transit routes for goods and people.

Outlook and need for action from the EU

The European Union as a whole faces complex challenges in the realm of mobility. As described above, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the transportation sector in unprecedented ways, while the Ukraine conflict and the escalating climate emergency have added to the already existing challenges. Navigating these challenges demands a multifaceted approach that prioritizes resilience, sustainability, and inclusivity. 

To address these issues effectively, the EU must consider several key strategies.

Firstly, the EU should accelerate the transition to sustainable transportation modes. This includes investing in electric mobility, developing comprehensive and efficient public transport systems, and prioritizing cycling and walking infrastructure.

Sustainable mobility not only mitigates the climate crisis but also reduces dependence on fossil fuels, contributing to energy security. 

Secondly, digitalization is essential for optimizing mobility during crises. Digital tools, such as contactless payments, real-time information sharing, and advanced logistics solutions, enhance passenger safety and supply chain resilience.

The ongoing pandemic has highlighted the importance of digitalization in the transportation sector, and it is crucial that the EU continues to prioritize this aspect. 

Lastly, given the geopolitical vulnerabilities exposed by the Ukraine crisis, diversifying energy sources is paramount. Increased reliance on renewable energy, coupled with investments in alternative fuels and EV infrastructure, strengthens energy security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU must prioritize sustainable energy sources and work towards reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. 

The transportation sector plays a crucial role in the economic development of any region.

The ongoing crises demand a multifaceted approach, and the EU must invest in sustainable transportation modes, digitalization, and diversifying energy sources to create a more sustainable and equitable future for transportation in the region. 

The global pandemic has brought to light the importance of having a resilient and adaptable transportation infrastructure.

In times of crisis, the ability to move essential goods and people becomes even more critical.

The European Union must prioritize sustainability, resilience, and inclusivity to ensure that the mobility challenges faced by its citizens are addressed effectively. 

One crucial factor in achieving this goal is the strengthening of trade routes.

The EU must invest in building more robust supply chains to ensure the continuity of goods and people flow. This investment in adaptive logistics solutions and resilient supply chains will guarantee uninterrupted movement, even during times of crises. 

Transport justice and accessibility must remain central priorities for the EU. Rural and marginalized communities should have access to essential services and economic opportunities.

The affordability of public transportation must be ensured to combat transport poverty. 

The EU must also prioritize international cooperation to address shared mobility challenges.

Crises do not respect borders, and the EU must collaborate with neighbouring countries and global partners to promote cross-border transportation resilience. 

Digitalization can also play a crucial role in achieving sustainable and resilient mobility.

The EU must embrace technological advancements to improve transportation infrastructure and enhance the efficiency of transportation systems. 

In conclusion, the challenges posed by mobility in times of crises present opportunities for the EU to lead by example.

By prioritizing sustainability, resilience, inclusivity, digitalization, and international cooperation, the EU can shape the future of mobility for a more sustainable and interconnected world. The EU must continue to invest in the development of a robust transportation infrastructure that can withstand crises and ensure that essential goods and people can move freely.