C Force: The Uncertain Direction of Public Transit
As recently reported by Time magazine, in addition to dwindling fare collections, tax revenues that help subsidize transit systems are taking a dramatic hit. "Perhaps nowhere is public transit more vital, or the budget crisis more serious, than in New York City," writes Time magazine reporter Alejandro de la Garza. "Ridership in the city plummeted as people stayed home or sought out alternate modes of transportation they perceived to be safer."
In this era of social distancing, public transit underscores just how much everyday life and behaviors continue to change during the pandemic. Even when the current health crisis is in the rearview mirror, how people get from point A to point B could well have changed permanently.
"Not everybody is mourning the sorry state of American public transit," he goes on to report. "Transit opponents often point to data showing that national ridership had been slumping since 2014 as evidence that Americans were choosing other forms of transportation even before the pandemic, though the dropoff began to reverse last year."
He goes on to report that some transit advocates see the current situation as an opportunity to free up needed public space by closing streets to car traffic and transforming car lanes into temporary bike and pedestrian lanes. This is attributed to the fact that people are driving less, says de la Garza. In May, Seattle had chosen to close 20 miles of city streets to most cars. Other cities are seeing it as an opportunity for more permanent infrastructure changes. They are building special lanes or revamping streets to accommodate a mostly nonmotorized form of transportation -- cycling.
As reported by Outside magazine, many bike shops are reporting booming business, far above even the normally busy days of the spring selling season. According to one industry report, which tracks the sales of retail sporting goods, children's bike sales in March were up 56% compared with March 2019. Adult leisure bike sales were up an impressive 121%. So are requests for bike service, as "riders pull old, disused bikes out of garages and basements," Outside writes.
"Public transportation is not necessarily the easiest or safest route right now," Adele Nasr, chief marketing officer at Aventon Bikes, an industry leader, tells Outside. "People are finding alternative ways to get around, and bikes make sense. Some of the markets where we're growing most are where public transit is most popular."
This trend is not just happening in America. "Just like the 1970s oil shocks which turned Amsterdam into a cycling town, the trauma of the pandemic is transforming Paris," NPR's Eleanor Beardsley recently reported. "Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has promised to transform Paris from a car-centered town to a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly city, and the changes are already quite dramatic," she says.
"London plans to spend $100 million to build new bike lanes and widen sidewalks during the pandemic," added NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt.
Though bicycles have been a mode of transport in America since the late 1880s, according to Wikipedia, ridership dropped off dramatically in the United States between 1900 and 1910 as bicycles gradually became considered children's toys, and automobiles became the preferred means of transportation.
As a recent study by market research company Mordor Intelligence points out, "Individuals all across the globe are increasingly becoming more aware of their fitness, which is eventually resulting in the growing demand for the bicycle as an alternative way of transport."