Eduvation Blog

A Look at Cars in FFWD and Car Crashes in Slo-Mo

Good morning!

Today let’s explore the economic and cultural shifts the pandemic is driving, with respect to automobiles and public transit. Generations Y and Z seem finally to be embracing the car as a form of PPE. Transit systems are losing millions as student bus passes have been cancelled. We’re heading back to the 50s as drive-in everything becomes the order of the day. These shifts will have some lasting impacts.

 Sadly, we also have to cast a glance at the slow-motion car crash that is the return to campus south of the border, where the pandemic continues to gain momentum. Yesterday, dozens of colleges announced COVID19 outbreaks, even as others were publishing some lovingly crafted video messages to welcome students back to campus. Props to the videographers, whether or not they knew they were orchestrating the soundtrack for what will likely be a tragic story…

COVID19 Updates

Yesterday, even more outbreaks on US campuses were throwing fall semester plans into turmoil. Here are just the 2 most prominent examples…

Michigan State last night called off in-person classes for the fall, just 10 days before students were due to arrive back on campus. MSU

Notre Dame announced yesterday afternoon that in-person classes for undergrads, which began on Aug 10, are suspended for 2 weeks while it reassesses its plans. (Their online dashboard indicates 147 confirmed cases this month.) If the outbreak is not controlled within 2 weeks, they will send students home for the term. ND

By comparison, the incidents and announcements in Canada were minor…

Briercrest College (SK) announced yesterday that they will delay the start of their fall semester to Sep 7, to align with the province’s change to the K-12 schedule. (Briercrest also operates a Christian high school.) Briercrest

St Clair College reported on Monday that a student has tested positive for COVID19. “Several hundred” stranded students have been back on campus since early July. The risk of spread on campus is “low,” although classmates have been asked to self-isolate. Windsor Star

Ontario Police College, in Aylmer, reports that 4 recruits (1% of the class) tested positive for COVID19, and their contacts are self-isolating. Classes have resumed. Global


Let’s take a look at the impacts COVID19 is having on the automotive industry, with repercussions for student life, campus parking, bus passes, and academic programs …

Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile

For almost a century, cars were an aspirational purchase, a sign of independence or a signal of life achievement for many. But Gen Y and Z have shown a real preference for the affordable convenience of car-sharing and ride-sharing services like Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft (perhaps supplemented with free rides from the parental units), to the point that the auto industry has been concerned for years: not only have younger generations been less likely to buy a car, but even to pursue a drivers’ license. (Cue the inevitable discussion of self-driving automobiles, which we don’t have time for today.) Some analysts suspected it was an environmental impulse, or smartphone addiction, but ultimately it looks like the major factor was financial.

The Industry Sputters

Likewise, the COVID19 dep/recession has affected automotive sales this year: between May and June, Honda lost $765M when its sales dropped 47%, GM lost $806M, and Nissan a whopping $2.7B. BMW lost $800M as quarterly sales fell 25%, although their recovery has already started. (Oddly Tesla profits rose, even though deliveries fell 5%.) Many believe new car sales are the “canary in the coal mine,” as 67% of consumers say they are being more cautious about spending in the face of income uncertainty. (My own car has spent most of the past 6 months sitting in the garage, still on the same tank of gas.)

Newly Popular as PPE

But a recent survey found stable demand for new cars among Canadians, particularly males under age 38 and households with kids under age 6. Even though car sales dropped this spring, sales to 18-to-35-year-olds increased. Thanks to concerns about viral transmission on public transit and in shared vehicles, young people are buying cars as “the ultimate form of PPE.” In Windsor, a stone’s throw from Detroit, first-time buyers are fuelling 24% greater demand, and driving the prices for used vehicles up 15%.

Missing the Bus

Thanks to the pandemic, a global survey of 11,000 people in 11 countries found that half planned to use transit less and a car more in the future, and 75% had hygiene concerns about transit. A separate survey of 1,000 Canadians this spring found that 70% would not use ride sharing again, and 40% would not use public transit. As college and university campuses across the country have moved to primarily online delivery, contracts with local transit authorities for student bus passes have been scaled back or suspended, costing cities millions of dollars. The City of Guelph, ON has reduced bus routes and will be laying off drivers this fall, in response to 60% fewer passengers and the cancellation of routes serving the university.

Mel’s Drive-In, Redux

America’s love affair with the automobile seems to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts, under the COVID19 social distancing regime. While restaurants and theatres have closed, drive-thrus and drive-ins are back in business. Grocery stores and big box retailers – not to mention campus libraries – are offering curbside pickup, right to your car’s trunk. A German nightclub even held a drive-in rave. This weekend, the Barrie Ribfest will be a drive-thru festival. Colleges have mounted drive-in convocations, and “car tours” of campus (with the guide on Zoom audio).

Back to the Future

No question, level 5 autonomous vehicles will be a godsend for young and old alike, but until they roll off the assembly lines in quantity, what will really drive the automotive sector is the desire to maintain social distancing during a pandemic. Engineers may be in demand to optimize cabin air filtration, and mechanics should have some job security if people are keeping their cars on the road longer, or buying the used vehicle they can afford rather than risking more debt. Cities and campuses alike will have to deal with conflicting demands for increased parking spaces and for bike lanes or pedestrian districts. Unless everyone is driving electric vehicles, these trends will have environmental and public health impacts, too.

Welcome Back

Cape Breton U has published a colourful 18-page handbook for students, Thrive at CBU, to serve as “a starting point and checklist” as they begin an online year. (Ironically, it looks as though it’s intended to be a print piece.) CBU

uWaterloo has launched a very visual Welcome Back Waterloo guide for employees on the web, and a matching 2-min video about COVID19 precautions for students, complete with slick infographics. YouTube


As we watch US campuses confronted by the harsh reality of this pandemic, evacuating students within days of welcoming them aboard, I feel like a helpless observer as the RMS Titanic steams toward the iceberg. There’s something bittersweet, almost painful, about watching institutional videos designed to welcome students back to campus, and urging them to act responsibly and put the good of the community ahead of their own convenience. “Do your part.” “We’re all in this together.” “Together, we will get through this.”

Alas, we know how this will turn out (cue Celine Dion background music here), but nonetheless, the videographers deserve some encouraging applause, like the orchestra playing on deck as the Titanic sinks… 

Baylor U (TX) is clearly very excited to be welcoming students back to campus. (Somehow the woman shouting into the camera at the beginning is more alarming than the full-sized bear at the end.) “We care about each other… We are going to get through this together.” YouTube


In a gentle, sensitive 40-sec vid, Whitworth U (WA) says “we are a tight-knit crew… we live and learn in community,” which is why social distancing is so difficult. “Each mask worn, each span of 6 feet observed… is an act of love…  Protect the crew.” YouTube

uCentral Florida administrators are so earnest in this 2-min video that I really have to hope they beat the odds. There are beautiful shots of all the effort they have put into preparation, from HVAC systems, electrostatic sprayers and testing stations, to vending machines filled with masks. “UCF is more than a place… it’s a mindset of unlimited potential.” YouTube


Vassar College president Elizabeth Bradley isn’t particularly convincing at delivering humorous dialogue, but she tells a memorable story about increasing hospital hand hygiene by flattening the hierarchy: when even the janitor could remind the chief surgeon to wash his hands, months later compliance was at 95%. (If only campuses had months to get this right, and undergrads were as responsible as surgeons…) YouTube


Thanks for reading!  Stay safe and be well…

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