There is a lot of talk right now about how COVID19 will have changed the world, and transit is certainly not immune to these changes. Many agencies are seeing ridership and farebox revenues at lower levels than at any point in recent memory. The same is true about fuel and sales tax revenues, of course. However, there is no denying that at some point in the near future, life will gradually go back to normal – it has already started to for some of us – and when it does, we can expect the basic challenges to transit service effectiveness will still be there.
Looking around, we hear a lot of debates and questions raised about our industry’s future:
How long and how bad will the impacts of COVID19 be on ridership? How relevant is this if we look further down the road?
Working from home has, for many businesses and employees, been demonstrated as very feasible and even beneficial. This can translate in sustained ridership reductions, as well as fewer cars on the road. How will this affect street congestion and the operating speed of transit?
Under the assumptions that mandatory facemasks would provide some protection against the spread of germs (ex.: protect others from our germs when we sneeze/cough/breathe), will this be enough to get people to (re)unite with transit?
Social distancing is certainly not congruous with high ridership. Does this mean more cars on the road, which is the last thing we need? Some will use this opportunity to promote driverless vehicles as the new mass-transportation solution. However, driverless vehicles rely heavily on reserved lanes, something for which transit has been longing for a long, long time.
We can all recognize that COVID19 will have a long-lasting effect on “LIFE” as we knew it. But we will not know how much, nor will we be able to tweak service levels, until sufficient, meaningful data has been collected – so for now, we can only use what we already have: historic pre-COVID runtimes and ridership data, historic information about our most congested corridors and historic information about everything that needed improving. Let’s use this opportunity to embrace change.
I am a firm believer that faster, more reliable and more frequent transit services should be part of our emergence out of this COVID crisis. This is not about how COVID19 has negatively affected transit – there is no point to dwell on facts on the past – this should be about how transit needs to be adapted, now and quickly, to provide viable solutions for the future.
Traditional transit financing sources are inadequate. It is imperative to keep fare costs low to further promote transit use. Frequent, effective and efficient transit will benefit road network maintenance costs, health-care cost, community development, tourism, job creation and job access, and so on. Financing of transit needs to be aligned accordingly.
Reserved lanes for transit will achieve faster, more frequent and hence more effective transit services with little if any increase in operating cost. With reserved lanes not only can transit vehicles operate faster, they can do so more consistently. Faster journey times mean we can offer better frequency (aka ‘service levels’) for the same cost and thus make transit a more effective transportation means. For a fixed level of ridership, more frequency means less crowed transit vehicles which would serve social distancing. People stuck in traffic seeing multiple reserved-lane transit vehicles fly by them with a little “hand-waver” stuck to the windows would certainly get the point across that more (driven) cars is not the solution, it’s part of the problem. With fewer cars on the road, is now not the time to instill reserved lanes as an “in-this-world” fact of life?
Will facemasks and hand-sanitizers upon entrance of transit vehicles be an effective means to reassure people that transit is safe?
There are many great thinkers out there – let’s share practical and applied viable solutions that can make transit part of the COVID19 solutions. And hey, it’s Ok to dream and think outside the box – no one is judging.