Public Transport, and the Effects of COVID Across Major Cities

by Georgia Hines

The Covid-19 crisis has changed how people commute and impacts their daily travel behavior. With shops, offices, restaurants, schools, and offices closing, people are cycling and walking more than they have ever before to get to essential services. Governments around the world have implemented different programs and schemes to support alternative methods to public transport when they can, but what has this meant for local transport companies? Are fewer people taking public transport? Has there been an increase in vehicles on the road and what is the most effective or safest way for people to get around their city now?

SAN FRANCISCO

It has been reported by ABC News that the BART ridership went from 400,000 commuters traveling every weekday to less than 20,000 in April slashing its services both at the weekend and on weekdays. As a result of this, the BART system is losing $55 million a month in revenue from decreased ridership and fewer sales tax revenue. Muni has suspended cable cars, streetcars, and subway lines as well as 70-89% of bus routes. Jeffery Tumlin, the director of Transport in San Francisco believes that maintaining 6 feet of social distancing on buses has limited the agency’s ability to resume more services. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)’s Slow Streets program has been designed post-COVID to limit traffic on residential streets and allow them to be used as a shared space for people walking and cycling. This system was created to allow people to connect to ‘essential services’ near their homes without having to catch public transport and this has resulted in people also rediscovering the joys of cycling.

SINGAPORE

Before the pandemic, buses were the most popular form of transport taken by Singaporeans followed by the MRT. In a survey conducted by The Straits Times, 22% of people said they were ‘less willing’ to take buses and trains since stay-home measures were implemented back in April. This resulted in public transit ridership dropping as low as 20%. The same survey also found that 61% of people were ‘more willing to use a car now’. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced a challenge for commuters to adhere to safe distancing with the lift of lockdown measures in June.  Despite ridership levels dropping on public transport in Singapore, social distancing is nearly impossible on crowded buses and trains during peak commute times for residents who don’t own a car and live too far away to bike to work. Many people have switched back to cars, taxis, or private-hire vehicles to stay safe. To combat the increased traffic congestion, the government has implemented an initiative to encourage cycling with plans to invest more than $1 billion on cycling paths over the next 10 years which may see commuters continuing to switch up how they travel in the coming years. In July, the Land Transport Authority granted Anywheel approval to expand its fleet from 10,000 to 15,000 bicycles to keep up with the increasing demand. 

LONDON

With almost 10 million people living in London, COVID has affected transport in this city particularly hard. The lockdown imposed in the UK in March has meant that there was a 95% decrease in underground journeys in London and an 85% decrease in bus journeys. Transport for London (TfL) has put in place the required two-meter distance from other people which means that buses and the underground tube can only carry 13%-15% of normal passengers even when full services are restored. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, banished cars from the streets in central London to encourage more walking and cycling. One High-end bike and triathlon shop near London, reported that year-on-year sales of entry-level bikes were up by 677% in April.   The UK government has put forward US$2 billion in funding to cover the shortfall in revenue until October. This restricts a lot of the travel that many Londoners can do forcing people to stay within their area. The encouragement of cycling and walking has meant an increase in demand for many bike retailers with many left waiting for new stock. 

SYDNEY

Following other major cities with a reduction in operational public transport, Sydney, announced that trains will run at just 24% of usual capacity with stickers to be placed on seats indicating where commuters are allowed to sit. Only 12 people are now allowed on a bus and just 32 in a train carriage. The government has also announced 10km of temporary cycleways to be rolled out in Sydney to encourage people to use bikes to make up for the reduced public transport options that are now unavailable. A survey conducted by transport findings found that 92% of people reported cycling frequency of at least once a month which is a result of hygiene reasons and a newfound enjoyment in cycling. Andrew Constance, the NSW transport minister, pleads with people to commute outside of peak hours as a huge increase in traffic on the road is expected for the foreseeable future. 

NEW YORK

Cycling has seen a huge increase in New York with a partnership between the Mayor’s office and DOT, a bike-share company, which launched a program providing essential workers with a free month to use a bike. The MTA in New York has suspended trains between 1am and 5am for the first time in 115 years to deep clean every 24 hours for the foreseeable future. City buses have also been reduced to a 75% capacity under the Essential Service Plan with rear door boarding only being allowed unless a commuter has limited mobility so they can use the ramp and use accessibility seating. The Mayor of New York - Bill de Blasio, is encouraging people to walk and bike wherever they can. As the city’s COVID cases continue to climb, the number of cars on the road is considerably lower than average. The New York Post shows that traffic has dipped by 35 to 50% since the start of March.

Large reductions in public transport and an increase in cycling and walking can be seen across most major cities with governments playing a huge role in shaping the travel landscape for safety and long term environmental outcomes. According to Dave Snyder, the executive Director of the California Bicycle Coalition, the thousands of new riders on the streets will continue to commute that way as long as the streets are safe enough. People’s perception of risks is the main reason for changing transport behavior and as lockdowns start to lift and life slowly returns to normal we can start to predict the likely behaviors and design policies that are best fit for consumers in the long run.