Saturday, May 23, 2020

Resolving the issue of day trips in the pandemic (and beyond)

We have a growing storm of controversy about people visiting the countryside as lock-down is lifted.

Locals are justifiably concerned that visitors will bring the virus to communities that have up to now been unaffected. So should all trips to beaches and beauty spots be banned, or how should it be managed?

Let's analyse the problem. There is no virus transmission risk if a household drives to a beach, parks at a car park observing social distancing rules, walks to the beach, bathes and sunbathes (the latter boosting immunity through Vitamin D production in the skin), eats its home-prepared picnic and then drives home again. The only risk comes from filling up with fuel without wiping the filler handle, giving cash to the cashier and buying ice-creams and sweets. At their destination, the risk again is buying in local shops, sitting down for a meal in a restaurant or cafe, and through simple overcrowding. 

Locals face a dilemma here: they do not want Covid, but they do want an income, which normally comes from selling goods and services to tourists.

There is a way to resolve this conflict in many localities. Take the case of a small seaside town that has only two roads leading to it. Traffic flow into the town can be controlled so that a safe number of cars in the town is never exceeded. It is necessary to take a spot check of the number of cars and vans in the town early in the morning of one day, and match that number against a safe maximum that can be accommodated in the town's car parks. That number of can now be let in. As cars leave the town, more can be allowed in. Digital communications can enable the numbers to be balanced. A toll must be paid on entry to make up for the community's loss from their inability to trade. 

Local vehicles would be identified with a windscreen sticker, and waved through.

This method of traffic control will also be useful when the pandemic is over. Many small seaside towns are overburdened with traffic, and a significant part of it is just driving around looking for somewhere to park. Many cars drive into a town, find that all the car parks are full, and drive out again - a totally wasted journey that makes local congestion worse. The cars are often inching along through streets filled with walkers, blasting exhaust fumes into the crowd. By controlling ingress into the town, these frustrating trips can be avoided. People could still enjoy a trip into the town by parking in a designated field at the entrance, and taking a small courtesy bus down to the town.

This is a sensible and rational solution to a problem that applies not just to the pandemic, but to ordinary life. 

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