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NEW YORK — On the London Underground, Piccadilly Circus station is nearly vacant on a weekday morning, while the Delhi Metro is ferrying fewer than half of the riders it used to. In Rio de Janeiro, unpaid bus drivers have gone on strike. New York City subway traffic is just a third of what it was before the pandemic.rr
A year into the coronavirus pandemic, public transit is hanging by a thread in many cities around the world. Riders remain at home or they remain fearful of boarding buses and trains. And without their fares, public transit revenues have fallen off a cliff.rr
In some places service has been cut. In others, fares have gone up and transit workers are facing the prospect of layoffs.rr
That’s a disaster for the world’s ability to address that other global crisis: Climate change. Public transit offers a relatively simple way for cities to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention a way to improve air quality, noise and congestion.rr
“We are facing maybe the most important crisis in the public transit sector in different parts of the world,” said Mr Sérgio Avelleda, the director of urban mobility for the World Resources Institute and a former transport secretary for São Paulo, Brazil. “It’s urgent to act.”rr
But act how? Transit agencies that have been bailed out by the government are wondering how long the generosity will last, and almost everywhere, transportation experts are scrambling to figure out how to better adapt public transit to the needs of riders as cities begin to emerge from the pandemic.rr
For now, people simply are not moving around much. Even in cities like New Delhi, where most businesses are open, many office workers are working from home and universities have not resumed in-person classes. Paris has a 6pm curfew.rr
In some places, fear of the virus has driven people into cars. In the United States, used car sales have shot up and so have prices of used cars.rr
In India, a company that sells secondhand cars online saw sales swell in 2020 and its own value as a company jump to US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion), according to news reports. Elsewhere, bike sales have grown, suggesting that people are pedalling a bit more.rr
The worry about the future is twofold. If commuters shun public transit for cars as their cities recover from the pandemic, that has huge implications for air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.rr
Most importantly, if transit systems continue to lose passenger fare revenues, they will not be able to make the investments necessary to be efficient, safe and attractive to commuters.rr
There are a few outliers. In Shanghai, for example, public transit numbers took a nosedive in February 2020, but riders have returned as new coronavirus infections remain low and the economy rebounds.rr
But the picture is grim in many more cities.rr
On the Paris Métro, ridership was just over half of normal in the first two months of this year. Île-de-France Mobilités, the transport agency for the greater Paris area, said it lost 2.6 billion euros (over S$4 billion) last year. The agency is projecting a shortfall of an additional billion euros this year.