Transit in a world after Coronavirus

There have been a number of think pieces opining about the impact this pandemic is going to have on public transit, based on the cratering ridership numbers released by agencies all around the world. To the point that a colleague sent around an email earlier today remarking “the war on the car is over…” linking articles describing the gains car manufacturers will make in the coming years as public fears of infection deter people from taking transit even as we transition back to “normalcy.”

Though it’s tempting to assume transit ridership may never recover post-COVID based on what we’re seeing today, this post on LinkedIn makes some compelling counter-arguments. Three major points stand out:

  1. The presumed shift to car-ownership in Wuhan, China, doesn’t take into account the latent demand from people who would have bought a car anyway in the last few months, absent the lockdown.
  2. In many cities, the workers who are keeping essential services running include many in lower-income brackets who rely on public transit. Without functioning public transit, essential services wouldn’t be able to function. This won’t change when the lockdowns are lifted.
  3. When the lockdown is lifted, the economy may not immediately come roaring back to life. No one can reasonably predict how long the recession will last, but many people won’t necessarily be able to buy cars and will have to continue to rely on transit or other means.

While it’s tempting to take a major event such as this and ask yourself “what’s going to change?”, it is also important to balance that with “what’s not going to change?”

Looking forward to playing with some data to better tell these stories as things unfold.

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