Life After COVID-19: Will Public Transit Change as a Result of the Pandemic?
Since March, many Americans who live and work in cities have been mandated to shelter in place. That is, they need to practice social distancing by staying indoors and heading into public only for the necessities — groceries, medical appointments, a short walk and so on. We’ve all seen the jokes on social media: Los Angeles’ traffic congestion is nonexistent now, and the air feels cleaner with fewer cars and buses clogging streets. But what happens when offices start reopening and more than just those deemed essential workers start commuting again?
It’s kind of an unnerving thought. After all, once-packed subway trains and buses don’t seem all too enticing right now. Even if, say, large cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles reopen, do you really want to step onto a crowded train platform or be stuck in a metal tube for 45 minutes with folks who may or may not be wearing face coverings?
Our guess is that that future doesn’t sound too appealing for most folks and, for those with the privilege and means, it may mean more cars on the road. After all, the physical distance a personal vehicle provides from fellow commuters sounds like the safer bet. But it’s also this line of thinking that will usher in a whole host of problems: gridlocked highways and freeways and more emissions. Not to mention, already struggling and under-funded public transportation agencies are sure to take a hit.
As Cities Reopen, Commuters Return to the Streets
Confined space, close proximity to others and seats, bars and buttons that you and thousands of other commuters touch daily. Those are the things of public transportation. And none of them feel particularly safe in a post-COVID-19 world. Of course, some riders who can’t afford a car, don’t have access to one or who work in an area that makes driving impractical have no choice but to rely on public transit. Even now — and throughout the pandemic — essential workers have taken buses and trains daily.
The End of Public Transportation (As We Knew It)
In pre-pandemic New York City, over 8,000 subway train trips occurred daily, carting nearly 6 million New Yorkers from home to work and back again. According to the New York Daily News, subway ridership fell by a whopping 93% in April, though the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) predicts that number will transform into a 60% decrease by the fall — still a significant drop, but, on the other hand, that’s a lot of commuters sharing a tight space.