One Year Later, Public Transit Still in Crisis

Public transit cities around the world are operating well below pre-pandemic ridership levels, with many cutting service and no real clear idea about how and when a recovery will begin.

Read Time: 2 minutes

March 29, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


COVID-19

Outside the entrance to the Piccadilly Circus station in London at the beginning of March 2020. | Eric Johnson Photography / Shutterstock

One of the first signs of the catastrophic consequences of the novel coronavirus in the United States in the spring of 2020 was the swift decline in public transit ridership. Since March 2020, U.S. transit agencies have cut service and sounded repeated alarms about a fiscal crisis and searched for ways to safely provide mobility options for essential and transit-dependent workers. Repeated infusions of relief funds from the federal government offer only a temporary reprieve from the fundamental realities of transit during the pandemic.

And transit isn't only struggling in the United States. As documented in a New York Times article authored by Somini Sengupta, Geneva Abdul, Manuela Andreoni, and Veronica Penney, a similar story is playing out in cities all over the globe.

In London, Piccadilly Circus station is nearly empty on a weekday morning, while in Delhi, the Metro ferries fewer than half of the riders it used to. In Rio, bus drivers are on strike, and in New York City, subway traffic is at just a third of normal volume.

The ongoing crisis facing public transit seems to compound concern. As noted in the article, the decline in transit ridership "spell disaster" for efforts to reduce public health risks like the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. "Public transit is a relatively simple remedy for urban greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention air quality, noise and congestion," according to the article.

The article seems primed for a deep dive, but stops short, probably because of the ongoing uncertainty about the questions of how to move to a post-pandemic normal. One source in the article, Mohamed Mezghani, head of the International Association of Public Transport, says transit systems should start upgrading transit systems now to attract riders back to transit in the future.

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