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Hurt by COVID-19, transit needs public confidence and increased funding

(ACEEE blog, 17 Dec 2020) As the United States enters the most serious phase of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, and many households continue to restrict their daily activities, personal vehicles are increasingly seen as the safest way to travel, to the detriment of more efficient modes of transportation.

This post is the third in a series focused on the energy efficiency implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first post explored how to reduce transmission risks in buildings without wasting energy, and the second one looked at how to create safe, sustainable schools. 

Public transit, in particular, has seen a significant reduction in ridership. Transportation data company Transit estimates that the demand for services across all major metropolitan areas in the country is currently 66% lower than normal. To ensure it remains a viable option, especially as the U.S bounces back from the pandemic, transit will need to regain public confidence, and its struggling systems will need guaranteed financial support.  

Research has shown very little evidence that public transit systems are the super-spreaders that many people think they are. While commuters are understandably skittish about riding on buses or trains, data from around the world does not show a direct correlation between public transit and COVID transmission. In Paris, none of the early COVID-19 clusters in April or May were traced back to public transportation. Likewise, cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong, which have robust public transit ridership and dense systems, have not seen any clusters originate from their public transportation facilities. In New York City, COVID-19 rates are entirely unrelated to trends in transit ridership.  

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ACEEE blog, 17 Dec 2020: Hurt by COVID-19, transit needs public confidence and increased funding