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Can public transportation survive the pandemic? Experts warn of “death spiral”



The Covid-19 pandemic has severely hit some public transportation systems.

The number of passengers on New York’s MTA and London’s underground subway systems initially dropped by about 95%, and has since returned to only one-third of last year’s levels. Although these numbers have picked up, the number of passengers may be lower in the short to medium term.

But this is not what experts worry about. Due to the economic impact of the pandemic, cities around the world are facing financial problems, and governments may want to cut funds due to the decline in passenger numbers. This may cause what some people call a “death spiral”

;, which is a cycle of declining service levels and fewer riders.

Greg Marsden, a professor of traffic management at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, said: “I can definitely say that demand will be lower than before Covid. It will be lower because we are entering a massive recession. And because people have adapted to their behavior.”

He added: “What really matters is how we manage the transition. If we get it wrong, once the public transport service disappears, it will be difficult to restore it.”

The next few years will be crucial, because it becomes increasingly clear how many people will continue to work from home or use private transportation, and the government is under pressure to cut spending, which may hinder the transportation system in the next few years.

Richard Anderson, co-director of transport strategy at Imperial College London, said: “With the entry from 2021 to 2022, the government will have less money and begin to question its priorities in public spending. This is the danger zone. The center.

Anderson said public transportation is rarely profitable, but it is critical to the success of big cities.

Lessons from Asia

Transportation networks in countries/regions with still low infection rates, such as Taiwan and South Korea, can provide clues to the post-Covid transit patterns and provide tips on how to attract alert passengers.

Given that the launch of the Covid-19 vaccine will take several months, or even longer, to relax the restrictions, for most networks, the decline in revenue is unlikely to continue.

At the same time, the October traffic volume of the Taipei Metro only decreased by about 15% compared to 2019. It launched high-profile disinfection measures, hired hundreds of employees and mobilized volunteers to scan the body temperature of passengers on the turnstile.

In Seoul, the transportation authority provides congestion levels online so that passengers can plan their trips to avoid crowd congestion, and an app can report passengers who are not wearing masks.

But comparing the experience of Asia with other regions has limitations. Its cities are usually densely populated, so it is difficult to choose other public transportation (such as driving to work or working from home). In recent years, the African continent has also experienced other pandemics, such as SARS, and is more often used to cover up clothing and social distance.

Sentiment

In the West, it is unclear how many passengers will eventually return to public transport. A survey conducted by France in September showed that this number was 69%, while another survey of Americans conducted in the northeastern United States in April and May found that 92% of people would return.

Although passenger numbers are still low, transportation experts have urged decision makers not to just consider the original number of passengers when making funding decisions.

During the pandemic, public transportation has been the lifeline of key workers and low-income people, many of whom cannot work from home or cannot afford their own cars.

Cuts in transportation funds will also severely hit women and ethnic minorities. A survey in the United States showed that at the peak of the pandemic, public transportation users were “the vast majority of women and people of color”, and medical staff and food service personnel were the top occupations of riders.

On December 21, 2020, a man walked down an escalator in an empty subway station in London.Alex McBride/Sputnik via AP

Proponents of public transportation say that in addition to economic arguments and practical measures to improve efficiency, emotional support is needed to support public transportation.

Mohamed Mezghani, secretary general of the Brussels International Public Transport Association, pointed out that Vienna has launched an initiative to invite passengers to use public transport to send their own selfies to be displayed on the station screen.

He said: “We need to act on two levels, rational and emotional.”

He said: “The important thing is to have a positive feeling about public transportation. People should be proud of using public transportation. … It’s like recycling. People do this because there is a sense of satisfaction, because it is a kind of citizenship. behavior.”




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