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.

2 minute read

March 29, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


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.

Saturday, March 27, 2021 in The New York Times

Green rapid transit bus pulled into station in dedicated lane.

Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes

The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.

February 25, 2024 - Fox 59

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25, 2024 - Wired

Ice fishing tents surrounded by fence in Safe Outdoor Space for unhoused people in parking lot in Denver, Colorado.

An Affordable Housing Model for Indigenous Americans

Indigenous people make up a disproportionately high percentage of the unhoused population, but many programs designed to assist them don’t reach those most in need.

4 hours ago - High Country News

An electric bicycle is shown with the legs of a human who is riding the e-bike.

Oregon Bill Would Ban E-Bikes for Riders Under 16

State lawmakers seek to change Oregon e-bike laws following the death of a 15-year old last summer.

5 hours ago - Oregon Capital Chronical

Aerial view of canal cut into beach in Charlestow, Rhode Island with boats parked in sand.

Northeastern Waterways More Polluted After Wet Year

Intense rains washed more runoff into local bodies of water, while warmer temperatures contributed to the growth of an invasive bloom.

6 hours ago - University of Rhode Island

Senior Planner

Heyer Gruel Associates

Regional Transportation Planner

Crater Planning District Commission

Senior Planner- Long range

Prince William County Planning Office

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.