The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a dramatic shift in how and when we travel. Public transit use has plummeted in some areas, like New York City, where ridership levels on the subway is at 50% of pre-pandemic levels, and on commuter rails, 40%. This is set to continue through 2022, with hybrid and remote working likely to dominate for professionals.
For many, this hybrid office-work from home scenario makes buying monthly passes uneconomical, thereby drastically reducing ticket sales.
Given many folks don’t want to return to their pre-pandemic transport routines, cities are adapting – investing in new transport infrastructure and finding novel ways to incentivise public transit use.
Cycling became much more popular during the pandemic. In London, for example, the share of journeys conducted via bicycle rose 48% from 2019 to 2020. Paris, Brussels, and New York City tell similar stories.
As a result, many cities are expanding cycling infrastructure. In response to the massive uptick in cycling, the Philippines recently allocated $22 million USD to build 500 km of bike lanes across Manila, Cebu, and Davao. Paris has invested €250 million to build 180 km of new bike lanes as well as 180,000 new bike parking spots in its bid to become a 100 percent “cycling city” by 2026. Milan will spend €200 to build 750 km of bike lanes by 2035.
To increase public transit ridership, Utah is even considering making public transit free.
Integrated transport offerings—such as those enabled by Mobility as a Service, explored in our recent report—can also help draw people back to transit by solving the first- and last-mile problem (the phenomenon whereby most people are only comfortable walking a quarter mile to access public transit). People are much more likely to take public transit if they can reach further-away stops via a bicycle or scooter. To that end, 15-minute bikeshares are now free in Prague. Similarly, New York City is studying how best to integrate bikes and scooters with public transit.
Bundling public transit service fares with other modalities, so a variety of public and private transport types are available for a flat fee, could also increase ridership.
These changes will not only make our transport systems more adaptive as workers, firms and city governments establish the ‘new normal’ but will reduce congestion and harmful emissions long after the pandemic has run its course.
It’s a testament to city leaders that they have turned this pandemic into an opportunity not only to reassess the commute, but also to reconsider urban transport as a whole. We’ll need more of this ambitious thinking in 2022 and beyond.