Al Alborn

Al Alborn

The Black Swan has landed.  It’s called the coronavirus.  For those of you who haven’t read Nissan Talab’s book, “The Black Swan,” Amazon’s description defines a black swan as a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random and more predictable than it was.

Several lessons can be learned in the changes we are making to how we live, work, play, shop and survive during these interesting times.  If we pay attention, they may be applied to the future of how we think about mobility.  The future should be defined as virtual mobility.  Instead of using roads, trains, planes, buses, carpools, Metro or whatever to connect people we should leverage the lessons learned as the world changes to respond to the coronavirus.

Many of the changes in how we live consist of using technology to bring the knowledge we use to work, to learn, and to communicate with professionals such as doctors, lawyers, consultants and peers – which perhaps changes how we define the future.  

My cardiologist called last week to change our appointment from an office visit to on on-line visit using Zoom, a web conferencing tool.  It should have always been a Zoom meeting.    

President Trump is promoting telehealth for seniors.  This obviously should be expanded to include the entire population.  Telehealth may serve more people at less cost when compared to other alternatives.  This pattern of connecting online has many potential applications.

Changing the nature of work is something we should watch carefully.  After a decade of ignoring the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, the government suddenly embraced encouraging employees to work from home.  Industry is following suit.  I suspect people will be working at home for a long time and anticipate it will become part of the new normal for knowledge workers -- people who work with online information.  The chaos created by the coronavirus offers a laboratory for telework.  Government and industry should resist going back to the old way.

Schools, colleges and universities have closed.  They are transitioning to a remote education environment.  The role of teachers is being redefined.  Perhaps remote education should become part of the new normal.  Imaging taking all of those buses that hold up traffic off the road every morning and afternoon.  

I am proposing we re-architect how we connect people.  There have been many leaps in how people connect.  Public mail, telegraph, telephone, social media and instant messaging all changed the game.  It’s time to make the next leap to virtual mobility.  

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and Virginia Department of Transportation should pay attention, and advocate exploring solutions to reduce demand for more roads, trains, buses and the like. Strategies to take people out of the transportation system should be integrated into transportation planning.  The goal should be to take people out of the transportation system, not figure out how to pack more people into it.

Prince William County government is forming its next strategic planning team.  Lessons learned should be incorporated in what our community should look like for the next four years and beyond.  Transportation is always a subject area. Virtual mobility should be the theme, and the emphasis should be using technology to take people out of the transportation system instead of building more of it.  The push for expanding Metro and other transportation solutions might become moot.

Virtual mobility.  Only a fool would actually drive someplace to do something which could be accomplished online.  I hope we are not that foolish.


Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week.  You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.

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