public transit

Can Public Transportation Survive the Pandemic? Experts Warn of ‘Death Spiral'

"If we get this wrong, then it’s very hard to bring public transport services back once they’ve disappeared," one expert said

MTA subway conductor sticks his head out of the train window
Gabriela Bhaskar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit some public transit systems hard.

Passenger numbers on New York’s MTA and London’s Underground metro system initially crashed by around 95 percent, and have since recovered to only about one-third of last year’s levels. And while those numbers have rebounded, passenger numbers are likely to be lower in the near-to-medium term.

But that's not what has experts worried. With cities around the world facing financial problems because of the economic impact of the pandemic, governments may look to cut funding since ridership is down. That can create what some have dubbed a “death spiral” — a cycle of poorer services and even fewer riders.

“I have absolutely no doubt in saying that demand will be lower than it was pre-Covid," said Greg Marsden, professor of transport governance at the University of Leeds in Britain. "It will be lower because we're entering a massive recession and because people have adapted their behaviors."

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