Since the beginning of 2021, Xiao Yu joined the department of Spatial Economics as researcher within project MOCOLODO (MObility during and after COrona LOckDOwn). MOCOLODO addresses urgent (policy) questions about mobility in corona times. The project unites researchers from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, University of Twente, Delft University of Technology, Utrecht University, and University of Groningen. ‘MOCOLODO represents the joint forces of interdisciplinary sciences to investigate the impacts of Covid-19 lockdowns on mobility. Our backgrounds are very diverse. We – the VU team, me, Erik Verhoef, and Jasper Knockaert – are transport economists or behavioural economists; the other university teams are from departments of geography, transport engineering, environmental psychology, and operational research. It’s a very interesting meeting point!’

Xiao’s background is not a usual one. Before starting her PhD research in the Netherlands (Erasmus University Rotterdam) , she traveled and lived in different countries and cultures. Apart from her home country China (Wuhan and Chengdu), she also lived in Sweden (Lund), Argentina (Buenos Aires) and the UK (Colchester). She  worked in a Chinese NGO for three years to conduct field interviews with rural families. She visited hundreds of families in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Shanxi, Gansu and Ningxia provinces. ‘This was an incredible experience which made me learn more about life than I could imagine’, she says. ‘During those years, I wanted to experiment to live a free life so I tried to travel by hitchhiking and couchsurfing – it worked for me. Apart from speaking English and Chinese, I used to speak Spanish and now I am learning Dutch. Nowadays I spend most of my spare time in my volkstuin (allotment garden).’

Perspectives on bigger pictures of the human condition

On the question why she joined specifically the MOCOLODO project, she answers:  ‘When I started, it was about a year since the Covid-19 outbreak began in Wuhan. Covid-19 was both personally salient and professionally relevant for me. I was born in Wuhan and at that point, I had spent the past 5 years in Rotterdam studying how people make decisions over risk and time delay. I also felt like to know more about the Dutch society by working with empirical data. I felt that these experiences and knowledge combined could give me perspectives on bigger pictures of the human condition’.

Within the project, Xiao’s role is to formulate research questions, analyse data, present progress to the social partners, discuss feedback, and write research papers. Xiao: ‘The on-going research covers four topics: (1) What is the impact of Covid-19 on societal inequalities? Studies from other countries have suggested that women and low-income groups are more negatively affected by the pandemic and we are interested in investigating whether the pandemic-induced mobility change in the Netherlands affects different demographic groups in different ways; (2) What are the behavioural determinants of mobility patterns in the “new normal”? Specially, we are interested in how people react to rules and norms and how they perceive risks; (3) What could we learn from the lockdown-induced mobility shock to make better congestion policies in future? (4) How did the public transport take the shock? Have new preferences/habits been formed since the pandemic?’

Asking about the research progress and encountering problems, she answers: ‘There are always problem-looking surprises in research, otherwise we would not make real scientific innovation. So far the biggest challenge is the time delay with data. Luckily we are diverse and flexible enough to have multiple projects going on. So we have different stages of development’.

Great cooperation

The cooperation between researchers from the different universities is great, Xiao says. ‘We have established nice dynamics between the junior researchers from different universities by regular informal online talks. As a whole team we also meet once a month to discuss proceeding issues. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, we have actually never met in person thus far. But we are going to in less than one week’s time, for the first time since MOCOLODO collaboration started! Without the benefits of meeting in person, we nonetheless have had very well structured interactions’.

Visit Xiao’s website


MOCOLODO (project number 10430032010024) falls within the research programme COVID-19 (focus area Societal Dynamics) which is (partly) financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw).





April 2022
Ellen Woudstra