Using Aggregated Mobility Data to Measure the Effect of COVID-19 Polices on Mobility Changes in Sydney, London, Phoenix, and Pune

Friday, October 30, 2020

The COVID-19 has led to unprecedented changes in the movement of people all over the world.  Professor Chris Pettit, UNSW Built Environment and Professor Elizabeth Wentz, Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate College, Arizona State University ASU), PLuS Alliance fellows have collaborated with Sarbeswar Praharaj, UNSW and Assistant Professor David King, ASU to investigate mobility during the pandemic.

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, governments directives were introduced around the world at a variety of levels, urging populations to “shelter-in-place”, leading to a notable reduction in urban mobility. To understand the relationship between policy implementation and mobility effects, the research team, uses Apple COVID-19 Mobility Trends Reports to assess how urban travel, by mode, changed in response to public policy. The data were used to statistically evaluate and visualize the changes in urban mobility patterns across four regions: Sydney, London, Phoenix, and Pune, which reflect the global nature of the pandemic and the local nature of policy responses. The results provide insights into how policies can receive a starkly varied response from communities across global regions.

The research questions;

How do differing public policies and restrictions impact changes in mobility patterns? And, whether the patterns significantly vary across global regions?

The results show there was statistically significant decrease in mobility during the lockdown phase comparative to the pre-lockdown period across all four cities. The research indicates that mobility patterns have not recovered significantly in some cities for different modes of transport. Professor Pettit comments “For example, in Sydney trips for driving are down whilst in Phoenix trips for walking are down.”  In the UK cycling has increased by 300% since March 2020 according to the Department of Transport.

The data set used in the research study, the The Apple Mobility Trends data is an aggregated crowdsourced product collected on the usage of Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities. Data that is sent from users’ devices to the Maps service is associated with random, rotating identifiers so Apple doesn’t have a profile of your movements and searches. The data is limited for 63 Countries. A key limitation of the data is that is only available at city level so urban mobility patterns within a city be analysed. Professor Wentz comments “although it is hard to evaluate the impact of the research at this point it does make clear that policies – in combination with general education tools - have impacted transportation behaviour.  The research  would grow by adding more cities to the analysis and to bring in more datasets to understand more trends and drivers” Professor Pettit added “an area of further research will be to understand the longer term implications of COVID-19 to travel behaviour across our cities.”

The PLuS Alliance continues to foster collaborations between our fellows, bringing together different expertise, perspectives and geographic context to solve global problems including rapid urbanization and the impact of COVID-19 on the analysis.

Click read more for the full research paper

Bisi Olulode, Communications Officer,