Public transit is not ready for the future

Last week, I used the bus for the first time in the last three months since I started working from home. The bus was on time and not overcrowded. It was everything that I ever wished for, but somehow, it did not felt good. And it probably will never feel the same, at least until we have a cure for COVID-19.

Indeed, travel and transportation is getting the worst hit from the global pandemic. A recent article from Bloomberg has pointed out that the loss of public transit ridership in the US is ranges from 70% to 90%. And not to be left out by US, many other countries have joined the downhill ride in their public transit system.

Source: Spare

In the other hand, the situation has led to an increase in different types of transportation like walking, cycling, private vehicle and even e-scooter. Cities have blocked streets for pedestrian and cycling; people talk about expanding the sidewalks. It is a good time for us to raise the question: Is public transit our desired future?

The responses

So far, the responses to this question have been quick and to the point. Many cities have made their efforts to adapt public transportation with the pandemic and social distancing policy.

During the peak of COVID, transit agencies have done their part and repurposed their resources to help with the global pandemic. For instance, France turned their high speed train into as part ambulance and part mobile hospital. This approach is also seen in India, Berlin or Toronto, where they decommission their vehicles to serve as on-demand vehicles for emergencies.

Photo by Mangopear creative on Unsplash

Realizing that shared-mobility is receiving a huge ridership loss, many cities have quickly responded to this situation by providing micro-transit as an alternative option. Micro transit is initially developed by transit agencies to provide accessible and on-demand rides for the ageing population. With the help of today’s technologies, these agencies have created apps to make the micro-transit system available to the public during the pandemic.

This new micro-transit system helps people to access public transit while they remain social distancing. Spare has done fantastic research on how to design safer public transportation in response to COVID-19. The research has shown many benefits of micro-transit from decentralizing risks to contact tracing. An article from Mass Transit Magazine has listed many cities using this method to provide the public with transportation and essential services like grocery, school or hospital.

Source: Spare

The future

With what happened from the pandemic, we all know that there are many things we aren’t prepared. Public transit is still growing, and many cities have invested in new transit infrastructure. However, we need to pause for a moment and review our plan and vision.

One thing we can learn from the responses of transit agencies is not to think public transit just as a way of commuting. Public transit has a massive resource in transportation, from vehicles to infrastructure. We should look at our transit system as more of an ecosystem. Trains or buses have been know to deliver people but we can also deliver food, information and many other services.

And since none of us can predict the future, let’s make sure that we are building our system to become more adaptive. We should always leave rooms for changes, and most importantly, we are always changing.




Landscape architect. I design and write about livable spaces for plants and human.

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Huy Pham

Huy Pham

Landscape architect. I design and write about livable spaces for plants and human.

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