This title is from a Bloomberg article that bemoans the loss of trust in mass transit from a health perspective.
Officials across the nation are worried that as the coronavirus pandemic persists, commuters will avoidtaking buses and trains, and opt for their cars, potentially leading to dangerous new levels of air pollution.
It seems a couple of the pillars of environmental “footprint” reduction, denser cities and mass transit are under strain in a time of fear of contagious disease.
More cars on the roads in congested urban centers like New York City—the virus epicenter in the spring—Washington, San Francisco, and Philadelphia means more emissions of smog-forming pollutants and poorer air quality. That could cause some cities to missfederal standards for ground-level ozone, which in turn could mean losing federal highway dollars at a time of already declining local revenues.
“If a significant number of people decide to drive to work then we could have congestion, and traffic, and air quality issues,” said Kristine Roselius, spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which represents the nine counties that make up San Francisco.
The increase in driving of personal vehicles can lead to real pollution issues unconnected to Global Warming or Climate Change
Mobile sources like cars are a significant factor in ground-level ozone, a chief component of smog that is linked to respiratory illnesses. Major urban centers like San Francisco are already struggling to meet federal ozone standards of 70 parts per billion of air,even without any unexpected spikes in drivers on the roads.
Exceeding ozone limits can prove costly for localities, which would have to rewrite their emissions reductions plans to factor in the increased pollution. While unlikely, a decline in air quality could ultimately lead to a loss of federal highway dollars for much-needed improvements if those revised plans aren’t met.
Ridership and revenues of mass transit have plummeted
New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA, which boasts the nation’s largest fleet of buses, subway lines, and commuter trains, saw train ridership plummet 93% in mid-April to 365,835, a record low, while bus ridership dropped 84% from last year.
As of June 24, ridership levels in the country’s most populous city are still a long way from reaching pre-pandemic levels, with trains hovering at 81% of year-ago average ridership, and buses at about half of last year’s levels.
Vehicle traffic also plummeted, but is recovering much faster than mass transit as stay-at-home orders are being lifted.
Vehicle miles traveled in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco are still 35% below pre-Covid levels. But StreetLight data indicates they increased sharply in the last month, rising nearly 70% since June 1 in D.C. and New York—and nearly doubling during that time in the Bay area. Philadelphia levels are now 18% below those pre-pandemic, and up 80% since June.
“These metrics certainly confirm what we’ve all anecdotally observed on our cities’ streets heading into the summer,” said Martin Morzynski, StreetLight’s vice president of marketing.
Officials worry that convincing people to ride mass transit again may be an uphill battle.
One challenge for transportation and air quality planners is to persuade people going forwardthat public transit won’t pose a threat to their health.
Sykora, the teacher, remains unpersuaded by New York City officials. She said the city took a long time to close public schools despite the surge in coronavirus cases—and only after Sykora and other teachers went on a strike of sorts that she described as a “sick-out.”