COVID-19 has brought countless changes to how we live, many of which will remain after the pandemic is over. In the KQED Bay Curious episode "How COVID Could Change the Bay Area For All of Us," Professor Susan Shaheen shares insights on the future of public transportation as the world starts to re-emerge from the pandemic.
According to Shaheen, the future of public transportation is uncertain, with many riders uneasy about shared spaces and crowding on vehicles. It will be key for agencies to communicate to the public how to stay safe while riding transit, including new protocols for entering and exiting vehicles, social distancing techniques, and expected wait times. Many agencies are exploring methods to increase safety on vehicles, like use of air purifying technologies, which will also be important to communicate to increase rider confidence.
Over the long term, public transportation agencies will consider strategies to make transit more enjoyable in order to encourage the return of riders. Further, they will pursue partnerships with other transportation services like Lyft and bike sharing apps, to implement a seamless experience that allows commuters to plan a complete trip using coordinated services. Seamless payment, subsidies and fareless transit are other important factors that could encourage ridership.
To predict traffic levels following the pandemic, Shaheen points to several noteworthy trends. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an uptick in vehicle registration rates, due both to individuals' concerns with riding public transportation and cuts in service. It will be important for researchers to track data like times of travel, miles traveled, and demand for parking to determine how to adjust accordingly. Other transportation trends include the increased use of multiple modes of transportation, and the creation of "slow streets" to encourage running, biking and non-vehicular travel. While not all changes from the pandemic have been positive, developments like more dedicated walking and express bus lanes have proved beneficial. According to Shaheen, the moment is ripe to lock in policies that formalize such investments, as more people experience and envision a new way to move through their communities.