Is It Time To Rethink Public Transportation in Our Post-Pandemic World?

Transit is Good, Actually

The shape of our lives has changed a lot in the last few months. For many of us, our personal maps have shrunk down to just our homes, our neighborhoods, maybe a few key destinations like the grocery store. Some of us are still traveling to work, but maybe in a different way than before. 

As we consider the safety in the near future and maybe further ahead to a time when we’re moving around more, we’re all thinking about how we move. Can we get where we need to go in a way that keeps us safe from exposure to covid-19, and helps us set up for a thriving post-covid world?

At the beginning of the pandemic, many people thought that the best way to travel safely was in private cars. We even saw articles blaming public transit for outbreaks, and initial recommendations from the CDC that everyone should drive to work rather than take transit. As transit ridership has plummeted and other sources of transit revenues (such as payroll taxes) are reduced, transit agencies are in danger of the “transit death spiral” of reduced services and reduced ridership. 

As we’ve learned more, however, it’s become clear that public transit is not particularly risky for covid exposure. Very dense cities with robust public transit systems, like Tokyo and Hong Kong, have seen low infection rates, and no infections have been traced back to exposure on transit. Infection “super-spreading” has taken place in crowded, poorly ventilated places where large groups of people are talking or singing, like conferences, parties, religious services, nursing homes, prisons. Transit, particularly now when transit agencies are requiring masking and physical distancing and investing heavily in cleaning, does not seem to be a place where a lot of spreading takes place.

What’s more, we know that transit is essential to making communities work by making our movement more space-efficient and less damaging to our lungs and our planet’s climate. It all ties together, too; pollution makes people more likely to get sicker from viruses that affect our lungs. We must preserve and expand transit during this difficult time; we can’t risk losing it.

If everyone who has access to a private car retreats into that bubble, we will all suffer more, because every private car on the road takes up space, pollutes the air, and makes it less safe to walk and bike. We have to work together to keep each other healthy. As we look to the future, we need to make sure that transit (along with biking and walking and the like) is a big part of our transportation system. Let’s do what we can to keep each other healthy now and in the future.

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