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Public transit and COVID-19: Commuters are wary, and some transit services are waiving fares

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 3/20/2020 2:55:00 PM

Canadians are turning away from public transit, either staying at home or using their cars, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a new survey from Northstar Research Partners.

Forty percent believed that riding public transit posed a high health risk due to the virus, and approximately 30% reported decreased usage of public transportation, as a direct result of COVID-19.

“People’s movement away from public transit is likely to have long-term consequences,” said Jennifer Yellin, Northstar’s senior vice president and co-lead of its Transportation Practice. “The implications include lost revenue for public transit authorities, which is ultimately used to upgrade and maintain systems. There is also the potential for increased traffic and congestion on roads, which could result in increased pollution and have longer range environmental impacts.”

Some transit authorities are responding by waiving fares. Bus fares in London, Ontario have been waived until April 5, 2020. Transit users in Victoria and Nanaimo, British Columbia, may also ride for free. In London, Ontario, bus users are being asked to limit their use to essential travel, to use the rear doors in order to protect drivers, and to practice social distancing whenever possible while using the transit service. Similar recommendations are in place in Victoria and Nanaimo.

Free public transit may help those who have taken an economic hit from the COVID-19 response, but there are obvious risks to promoting its use. In an article in The Conversation, an independent source of news from the global academic and research community, University of Sydney Researcher Yale Zhuxiao Wong says that in the COVID-19 outbreak’s epicentre, the city of Wuhan, public transport was entirely suspended. Buses were used only to move medical staff and to deliver goods. Most other Chinese cities ran reduced public transport services, with a heavy focus on hygiene and sanitation, he writes.

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