Life After COVID-19: How Has Public Transit Changed as a Result of the Pandemic?

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Since March, many Americans who live and work in cities were mandated to shelter in place, practicing social distancing by staying indoors and heading into public only for the necessities — groceries, medical appointments, a short walk and so on. We’ve all seen the jokes on social media: Los Angeles’ traffic congestion became nonexistent, and the air felt cleaner with fewer cars and buses clogging streets. But now most places around the country have returned to their pre-lockdown ways of life with a few modifications in place, and more than just those deemed essential workers have been commuting again.

Using public transportation is kind of an unnerving thought, particularly as cases have begun spiking again, with the country seeing record-breaking infection rates and COVID-19 hospitalizations jumping to springtime-peak levels. Packed subway trains and buses don’t seem all too enticing right now, even if they once did when case counts seemed to be slowing. As large cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles see increases in case counts — and as they begin tightening restrictions once again to stem the tide of new infection waves — do you really want to step onto a crowded train platform or be stuck in a metal tube for 45 minutes with folks who may or may not be wearing face coverings?

Our guess is that that doesn’t sound too appealing for most people and, for those with the privilege and means, it’s likely what’s responsible for traffic returning to pre-pandemic levels. After all, the physical distance a personal vehicle provides from fellow commuters sounds like the safer bet. But it’s also this line of thinking that will usher in a whole host of problems: gridlocked highways and freeways and more emissions. Not to mention, already struggling and under-funded public transportation agencies are sure to take a hit.