COVID-19 and the Future of Economic Activity and Transportation

On September 29, the Bloustein School’s Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University convened a full-day virtual symposium to share information and gather input from sector leaders regarding COVID-19 responses and thoughts on what to expect from the post pandemic world. The future of work, housing, commercial real estate, tourism, hospitality, retail and entertainment in the New Jersey and New York metropolitan region were the key subjects of discussion.

The event, which was planned in close consultation with NJ TRANSIT, brought together 25 local, national and international experts who presented and participated in facilitated on-line conversations about the ongoing pandemic, economic recovery and the future of transportation and mobility in the region. More than 200 transportation professionals, city planners, economists, development officials, and other decision-makers from government and transit agencies from Philadelphia to New Haven attended the virtual symposium.

“Transportation and mobility are critical to the region’s economy and the well-being of every resident,” said Piyushimita (Vonu) Thakuriah, distinguished professor and dean of the Bloustein School in her welcoming remarks. “While the pandemic is global, its effects are local. We are pleased to partner with NJ TRANSIT to explore the effects of the pandemic on people and businesses and to work with them to find ways to bolster the region’s recovery while ensuring public transportation services meet the changing needs of transit customers.”

NJ TRANSIT President and CEO Kevin Corbett noted the symposium discussions will be used to inform the agency’s plans for the future. “The information we gather here today will serve as a critical component in our ongoing planning and forecasting efforts. The input we receive from industry leaders will be used to define a series of future scenarios. These scenarios will allow us to model and test how future economic and mobility conditions may impact public transportation needs and services throughout our service area.”

In the opening keynote, Richard Florida, Ph.D., university professor at University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, distinguished fellow at NYU and FIU, and co-founder and senior editor, The Atlantic’s CityLab, said that “history and past crises demonstrate that the pandemic will not be the death of cities.” He suggested however that “cities, public agencies and their leaders cannot return to business as usual. They must be intentional and look for ways to build back better.” This might include reinventing commercial centers, reimagining public space, diversifying economies, exploring new governance models, and increasing focus on equity to ensure economic recovery efforts are fair and inclusive. 

The four roundtable discussions covered a range of topics. The public health panel discussed how a future COVID-19 vaccine and on-going public health precautions may shape economic recovery efforts and what it will take to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of work, social activities and travel. The mobility and public transit panel discussed what public transport agencies around the world are doing to ensure public safety and bring customers back to transit. The future of real estate panel explored how the pandemic has impacted work, housing and commercial real estate and discussed whether the changes we are seeing are temporary or if a fundamental shift in settlement and work patterns may be underway.  Finally, the last panel of experts discussed pandemic impacts on the retail, tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries and what it will take to for these industries to survive and adjust to what is emerging as a “new normal” reality in the region. 

The full program with speaker/panelist bios may be downloaded here. (PDF) Slideshow presentations and resources referenced by individual panelists have been included in the appropriate section where available.


Part 1: Welcome and Introductory Remarks

  • Jon Carnegie, Executive Director, Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, Rutgers University (event moderator)
  • Piyushimita (Vonu) Thakuriah, Dean and Distinguished Professor, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University
  • Kevin Corbett, President and CEO, NJ TRANSIT

Part 2: Morning Keynote: COVID-19 and How to Build Back Our Communities Better

Presented by Richard Florida, Ph.D., University Professor at University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, Distinguished Fellow at NYU and FIU, and Co-Founder and Senior Editor, The Atlantic’s CityLabSLIDE PRESENTATION

RESOURCE: Article, “The Uncertain Future of Corporate HQs

Part 3: Session #1: Where are we headed:  The pandemic, reopening and public health

Lockdowns, remote-learning, work-from-home, telemedicine and other strategies emerged in the early days of the global Covid-19 pandemic as responses to ensure public health.  Future economic outcomes and changes in mobility will be strongly influenced by the public’s response to and confidence in the success and availability of therapeutics, a vaccine, or perhaps even “herd immunity.” What will it take for us to get back to normal or at least for us to adjust to a “new normal” relationship between people, place, economic activity and travel.  This panel will explore the answers to these questions and more as the region continues to reopen, monitor health patterns and trends and adjust course as needed. 

Panelists:

  • Mike Greenberg, Distinguished Professor, Ph.D. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University
  • David Alland, MD MSc DTM & H, Chief of Infectious Diseases, Professor, Rutgers, New Jersey Medical School, Department of Medicine
  • Cathleen Bennett, President and CEO, NJ Hospital Association
  • Dr. Shirley Sylvester, Senior Medical Director for Women’s Health, Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Johnson & Johnson

RESOURCES: New Jersey Hospital Association’s (NJHA) “Vulnerable Communities” study and database by zip code

Part 4: Session #2: The Future of Mobility and Public Transit

The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on travel throughout the world. At the peak of the outbreak in the Northeast, transit ridership in the NJ-NY metropolitan region was down +/- 90 percent. As the region prepares for what may be a “new normal” relationship between people, economic activity, and travel, it is difficult to predict how mobility patterns may differ from pre-pandemic conditions, and how long the changes might last. Many employers continue to maintain work-from-home and other policies that are fundamentally changing the relationship between employees and central office locations. Other policy changes such as social distancing requirements, flexible work hours, and shift scheduling may dramatically alter when people need or choose to travel. Furthermore, some researchers believe that growth in e-commerce and remote learning and the proliferation of telemedicine and remote social services during the pandemic may portend fundamental shifts that will obviate the need for some non-work travel.  This panel will explore how the pandemic has changed mobility and travel and how lasting these effects may be. 

Panelists:

  • Piyushimita (Vonu) Thakuriah, Dean and Distinguished Professor, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University
  • Scott Bogren, Executive Director, Community Transportation Association of America
  • Jessica Mefford-Miller, Executive Director, Metro Transit St. Louis
  • Paul Skoutelas, President and CEO, American Public Transportation Association
  • Tom Wright, President and CEO, Regional Plan Association
  • Jeremy Yap, Chair of UITP Organizing Authorities Division, Deputy Chief Executive (Public Transport, Policy & Planning) of Land Transport Authority

Part 5: Lunchtime Keynotes

Introduction of speakers by Kevin Corbett, President and CEO, NJ TRANSIT

An International Perspective

Mohamed Mezghani, UITP Secretary General — SLIDE PRESENTATION (PDF)

It’s Getting Dark Early Out There: Pandemic Impacts on the Economy

Ryan Sweet, Senior Director, Moody’s Analytics — SLIDE PRESENTATION (PDF)

Part 6: Session #3: The Future of Work, Housing and Commercial Real Estate

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically reshaped our lives.  Some industries have shed millions of jobs while others can’t hire fast enough. Local businesses have been shuttered. Office buildings in many markets sit idle; while residential real estate markets in the suburbs and exurbs are white-hot.  Whether you are spending more time at home, no longer commute to a central work location, feel more cautious about density or are thinking differently about the communities in which we live and how we get around, change is visible almost everywhere. This panel will explore the many impacts of the pandemic on work, housing, and commercial real estate and discuss whether the changes we are seeing are a temporary reaction to the current public health crisis or if a fundamental shift in settlement and work patterns may be underway.  

Panelists:

  • James W. Hughes Ph.D., University Professor at Rutgers University & Senior Scientist, Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation — SLIDE PRESENTATION (PDF)
  • Jeffrey Otteau, President, Otteau Group — SLIDE PRESENTATION (PDF)
  • Shawn Rickenbacker, Director, Max Bond Center for Urban Futures, CCNY
  • David Sigman, Executive Vice President & Principal, LCOR
  • Robert White, First Vice President, NJ Realtors

RESOURCES: Rutgers Regional Report Fast Track Research Notes, “Coronavirus economic rebound: bucking new headwinds?” Issue 3, July 2020

Part 7: Session #4: The Future of Tourism, Hospitality, Retail and Entertainment, and Closing Remarks

Business and job growth in the retail, hospitality, entertainment, and tourism industries have been a driving force in the U.S. and N.J. economy for more than a decade.  Over the past six months, conditions have changed dramatically. While retail sales overall are up, the pandemic accelerated a shift to e-commerce. New Jersey’s casinos, are open again but at only 25 percent capacity and Broadway remains closed indefinitely.  Curb-side service is now a standard customer option at many retail stores and restaurants. Communities have closed streets to accommodate recreational activities and outdoor dining.  This panel will explore how lasting these new conditions and patterns might be and what new models may emerge as we adjust to a “new normal.”

  • Thomas Bracken, President and CEO, NJ Chamber of Commerce
  • Vijay Dandapani, President & CEO, Hotel Association of New York City
  • Marilou Halvorsen, President, New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association
  • Mark Jaffe, President & CEO, Greater New York Chamber of Commerce
  • Adam Perle, ArtPride NJ, President, NJ Tourism Industry Association

Closing remarks and observations by Jon Carnegie, Executive Director, Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, Rutgers University