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Coronavirus & Your Commute: How COVID-19 is Affecting Public Transportation Around the World

Published: March 19, 2020

COVID-19, the coronavirus that has affected over 130 countries and counting, is the topic of the new year. Around the world, governments, businesses and citizens alike are dealing with the increasing risks posed by the virus, and reeling from the effects of the growing number of infections and fatalities.

From stock markets crashing to schools and workplaces closing, not to mention the drastic reduction in international travelers, the full effect of coronavirus will continue to unravel over the next few months, if not years. As social distancing becomes the norm, another facet of society is changing, as well – the use of public transportation to get around.

Looking at COVID-19 through Public Transport Usage

Coronavirus public transit usage worldwide

At Moovit, we’ve been looking at the use of public transportation around the world over the last few months and some of the results are surprisingly drastic.

Explore the COVID-19 public transit data in our Public Transit Index

In Italy, for example, one of the countries hit hardest by the virus, public transportation has taken a dramatic downward slide compared to the months before. In Lombardy, a region in Northern Italy that includes Milan and Venice, we observed a 47% decrease in public transport usage, while in Parma, Piacenza and Reggio Emilia, we saw a 43% decrease. Countrywide, public transport ridership was down 50% by early March.

The dropoff in public transit users across the United States was fairly sudden. In the Seattle-Tacoma, Washington area, where COVID-19 was first detected in the country, we can see an earlier and steadier decline than in other cities. The first case of the virus was announced on January 21st, and we can see it had an immediate effect on the number of public transit riders. Of note in US ridership are the differences in usage between cities in the same state. Ridership in San Francisco is down nearly 40%, while Los Angeles has only seen a 26% overall decrease, possibly due to the difference in car ownership between the cities. Pennsylvania is in a similar position; While Pittsburgh has close to a 40% decrease in public transit usage, Philadelphia is down much less at 23%.

In the South American countries of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay, public transit has seen a volley effect over the past few months. The beginning of February was the start of their school year, and public transit was up until Carnaval celebrations, beginning in late February, created a drop in usage. After the celebrations, an uptick in public transit usage began – until mid-March, when the coronavirus began to make the rounds around the continent. By far, Lima, Peru has seen the most dramatic drop in public transit usage in South America: a 40% decrease in less than a week.

Besides riders avoiding traveling to public locations, another reason for the drastic decreases in bus and train usage is that many of the countries hit hardest by the virus have imposed strict bans on shopping, cultural and sporting events, and the like.

How Transit Agencies are Responding

Public transportation is still an integral part of billions of people’s lives, and transit agencies around the world are revamping their sanitization efforts to keep riders and employees safe.

Buses and trains continue to serve their communities in Italy, where COVID-19 cases trail only China. BusItalia and ATAF have both prohibited using the front doors to get on and off the bus to keep drivers safe. Tickets can now only be purchased through the self-service stations, ticketing apps, and offices in order to reduce the risk of infection, and passengers are required to maintain distance between each other according to the country guidelines.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, MTA, with an annual ridership of 1.68 billion, has been taking extra sanitization efforts, using CDC-approved cleaning products to wipe down its stations daily, and its entire fleet at least every 72 hours.

In Israel, the public has been asked to refrain from using public transportation except when absolutely necessary. The government has discontinued service to schools, universities, and entertainment and recreation areas since they’re indefinitely closed anyway. Cash is no longer allowed to pay for fares and the first two rows of buses are cordoned off from public use to reduce the risk for drivers.

To help essential workers easily get to their jobs, Moovit offers an emergency on-demand transit service. Based on Moovit’s On-Demand Transit platform, the service converts bus fleets to serve citizens on demand for the safety of riders and drivers.

Learn more about Emergency On-Demand Transit services here.

5 Tips for Staying Safe on Public Transportation:

If you are an essential worker, or your government is allowing anyone to use public transportation, make sure you follow these tips to keep you and your loved ones from getting sick on board.

  1. Top up your travel card online or through an app to avoid self-service machines or ticket counters.
  2. Carry and use hand sanitizer after touching any public surface, and only touch what you need to.
  3. Refrain from touching your face as much as possible, and try not to use your phone as much as possible. After using your phone on public transport, or other public areas, use antibacterial wipes to clean the phone, as well as your hands.
  4. Avoid touching handrails, poles, seats and the like – and sanitize immediately after if you do.
  5. Use tissues (or your elbow) to sneeze and cough into. Use the tissues as a barrier to anything you do need to touch on public transportation. Then, throw them away immediately and wash or sanitize your hands after.

The coronavirus is causing uncertainty around the world. At Moovit, we wish all of you the best of health and safe travels in these challenging times.

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