Can public transport survive the epidemic? Experts warn of ‘death spiral’

The Kovid-19 epidemic has hit some public transit systems hard.

Passenger numbers on the New York’s MTA and London’s underground metro systems initially crashed to about 95 percent, and have since reached only one-third of last year’s level. And while those numbers have reborn, passenger numbers are likely to decrease in the near-to-medium term.

But this is not what the experts have worried about. Cities around the world are facing financial problems due to the economic impact of the epidemic, as the government may cut funding since fearlessness has declined. This could create something that some have dubbed “the spiral of death” – a cycle of poor services and low ridership.

Greg Marsden, professor of transport governance at the University of Leeds, UK, said, “I have no doubt in saying that this demand will be lower than in pre-Kovid.” And because people have adapted their behavior. “

“It really matters how we manage the transition,” he said, adding that if we get it wrong, it is very difficult to get public transport services back after they disappear. “

The coming few years will be important as it becomes clear how many people will continue to work from home or use private transport, and as governments come under pressure to cut back on the transit system for years to come Can affect.

Richard Anderson, co-director of Transport Strategy at Imperial College London, said, “As we move into the 2021, 2022 deadline, where governments are going to spend less money and question their priorities over public spending . ” center.

Public transport is hardly profitable, but is essential to the success of major cities, Anderson said, comparing government transportation spending to “killing the golden goose”.

Lesson from asia

Transport networks in countries where the infection has remained relatively small – such as Taiwan and South Korea – can give clues to the size of post-Kovid transit and suggest ways to bring back careful travelers.

Most networks are unlikely to be sustainable due to a revenue slump, as the Kovid-19 vaccine will take months to roll out and even loosen restrictions.

Meanwhile, the Taipei Metro, whose October traffic was only 15 percent lower than in 2019, launched a high-profile sanitization drive, hiring hundreds of employees and preparing volunteers to scan passenger body temperatures at the turnstiles .

In Seoul, transport officials made the level of congestion available online so that passengers could plan their journey to avoid congestion, and it would be possible to report passengers who are not wearing masks through the app.

But there are limitations to comparing the experience of Asia to other regions. Its cities are generally densely populated, making public transportation options difficult (such as driving to work or working from home). The continent has experienced more epidemics in recent years, such as SARS, and wear and social distinctions.

Emotional request

In the West, it is unclear how many passengers will eventually return to public transport. A French poll in September put the figure at 69 percent, while another survey of Americans in the US Northeast in April and May found that 92 percent would return.

While ridership remains low, transport experts have urged policymakers to look beyond raw passenger numbers when making funding decisions.

Public transport has been a lifeline during the epidemic for key workers and low-income people, many of whom have not been able to work from home or buy their own cars.

The reduction in transport funds will also cause significant harm to women and ethnic minorities. A US survey showed that public transit users were “highly women and people of color” during the height of the epidemic and that health care workers and food service workers were among the top occupations among riders.

On December 21, 2020, a man walks near the escalator of an empty underground station in London.Via Alex McBride / Sputnik AP

Mass transit advocates say an emotional case is needed to support public transportation with economic arguments and practical measures to improve efficiency.

Mohammed Meghani, secretary general of the Brussels-based International Association of Public Transport, pointed to an initiative in Vienna to invite passengers to send their own selfies using public transport to be displayed on the station screen.

“We need to act on two levels at the rational and emotional level,” he said.

“It is important to incite positive feelings about public transport,” he said. “People should be proud to use public transport.… It’s like recycling. People do it because there’s a sense of satisfaction, because it’s civil behavior.”

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