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How Can We Build Back Better: A Sustainable Transport System in a Post-Coronavirus (Covid-19) World?

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The Coronavirus crisis has highlighted to us the importance of having an effective public transport system. By serving emergency services, food services, essential workers, and other sectors, the transport system has become a vital service not just for a few people but for all during this pandemic.

But the COVID-19 lockdowns are also weighing down on public transit systems globally. Transit ridership is estimated to be down between 50-90 percent, on top of an already existing decline that had been experienced in many nations before Coronavirus even begun. As an example, the San Francisco BART system is incurring losses of up to 55 million dollars a month as a result of declined sales tax revenue and decreased ridership.

In Brazil, transport companies are experiencing daily losses amounting up to 188 million dollars. Some countries have begun to intervene to shield public transport systems from bankruptcy: for example, the United States. CARES Act provided 25 billion dollars in emergency relief for transport agencies that have been hard hit by the negative impacts of Coronavirus.


What are some of the measures that can be implemented to help protect the transport system against the impact of Coronavirus?

While emergency interventions are vital to keeping transport systems afloat in the short-term, countries should also think of long-term plans.

Public transit can create jobs faster than other transport investments. A research of the impact of the last big economic stimulus in the US, after the Great Recession, showed that public transport investment generated 31 percent more jobs than new construction of bridges and roads. Repair work on bridges and roads generates 16 percent more jobs than new road and bridge construction. In South Korea, public transport investment, railroads and biking created almost 138,000 jobs, 15 percent of total jobs created in the whole program.

Beyond public transport is an environmentally friendly investment, it also provides wider benefits to the community, since it’s more affordable than the use of private vehicles, produces fewer greenhouse emissions per person, and creates less air pollution, which is linked to killing up to 7 million people annually. It’s also much safer than the use of private cars, which can help decrease the rising cases of road carnage.

Compact, transport-oriented expansion encourages biking and walking that creates a healthier society. And public transport can offer more equitable access to education, services, and jobs than large highway networks, a great benefit to urban resilience.

How can governments make public transit an essential part of economic recovery stimulus packages?

I. Ensuring stability through revenue assistance to transit operations

As the COVID-19 crisis wanes, economic activities are expected to resume slowly, demand for public transport will continue being limited. It will require reliable support to offer quality services and revive confidence from users in regards to sharing public space. Governments will need to offer continued cash infusions to ensure that the transit systems are still around once full demand resumes. This will conserve crucial jobs in a struggling economy.

II. Creating a high-quality transit infrastructure

With a massive decrease in vehicle traffic throughout urban centers during the COVID-19 crisis, cities have the perfect opportunity to come up with creative uses of public transport systems. Public transport users want speedy service, reliability, low fares, comfort, and safety.

III. Modernize and electrify transport fleets

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As many countries are coming up with economic stimulus packages, there’s a big opportunity to increase the electrification of transport fleets. Incentives should be included in stimulus packages to assist cities to overcome the initial procurement hurdles and begin reaping the benefits of better air quality.

IV. Invest in walking and cycling

Out of necessity, walking and cycling have increased in many cities during the COVID-19 lockdowns. It is simply the safest way to commute over short distances. The need for spaces for pedestrians and cyclists has also surged. These transportation modes aren’t only affordable; they promote healthy living, spur economic benefits, and are resilient.

Pedestrian and cycling projects can also produce more jobs in comparison to road projects as well

V. Proper Governance

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the interrelated nature of the modern world. Whatever happens in cities, doesn’t stay in cities anymore. Yet, urban planning most times remains uncoordinated and fractured, with substantial consequences for the transport system.


Take Away.

Investing in environmentally friendly stimulus packages can incentivize climate action in the public transport sector toward attainment of the Paris Agreement in addition to meeting the SDGs, which include goals to halve road carnages and offer access to affordable, accessible, sustainable, and safe public transport.

These principles can assist in ensuring stimulus packages help countries to build back better transport systems after the COVID-19 pandemic has been eliminated or brought to manageable levels.


JimMark (author) from United Kingdom on September 26, 2020:

Thanks for the feedback @lions44

CJ Kelly from the PNW on September 25, 2020:

Nice job. Incredibly important topic now as so many are working from home and that change might be permanent for many. In my area, the commuter rail service ("The Sounder"), is having revenue issues. The trains appear half empty. Given that this region is also very structured for work at home options, I don't think the ridership is coming back.

Big changes on the way. Keep up the good work. Stay well.

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