This morning, I read an article in The New York Times indicating that many people have quit using trains and buses in cities around the world. Ridership has gone so low that there’s concern that public transportation systems will fail and there will be many related disasters. One of the biggest worries is that there will be a severe effect on the environment, since more people will be driving their own cars. I expect that with more people opting for private transport, there will also be bigger traffic jams and less available parking. However– I don’t think that consequence will happen unless life gets totally back to normal, if and when the pandemic ever ends.
As I read the article about how cities around the world are grappling with the low numbers of fare paying travelers and governments are having to bail out bus and train systems, I couldn’t help but shake my head in wonder. It seems like it would only be natural that people aren’t wanting to use public transportation right now. Here’s a list of reasons:
- Most of us have been instructed NOT to travel unless we must.
- Many people are working from home, which eliminates the need to commute (and is probably better for the environment, too). Where I live, most businesses are closed, so why would I go anywhere?
- Who wants to ride in close quarters with a bunch of strangers, some of whom aren’t practicing social distancing or wearing proper masks?
- Who wants to ride on a bus having a bunch of people watching your every move and giving you the stinkeye if you aren’t wearing a mask the way they think you should?
- Isn’t it nicer not having to smell other people’s farts or halitosis? How about vomit, urine, poop, smoke, or booze? Or not being smushed standing up on a bus while some yucky guy cops a feel? That happened to me more than once in Armenia, where the buses would be filled until people were literally almost hanging off of them.
To me, it makes perfect sense that fewer people are taking public transportation. I think there are a lot of reasons why they aren’t using it. Some people, who were once bus or train riders, have opted to buy a car. According to the article, used car sales are up, and so are their prices. But some people are walking or riding bikes instead of using public transportation. Isn’t that a good thing, both for their health and the environment? Riding a bike is pretty low impact in terms of causing air pollution. So is walking.
The article makes it sound like the world will end if people don’t get back on the bus. And, I guess, if everyone suddenly starts driving a car instead of getting back on the bus, there could be serious problems. Mass transit systems are valuable sources of employment; they cost money to maintain, and they provide an efficient way of moving people that eliminates the need for parking spaces or sitting in traffic jams. However, more people than ever are working from home. Quite a few folks find that they like working from home and their employers are discovering that working from home is a viable option. They have lower overhead, the employee can handle minor personal business, and there’s no need for a commute. That means the employee can potentially sleep a little longer in the morning and maybe doesn’t have to spend as much money on work clothes or gas.
I read some of the comments about this article. So many people were writing that they don’t want to ride public transportation because they are concerned about anti-maskers spreading diseases. But there are probably just as many people who find riding on public transportation with militant mask enforcers just as unpleasant. I would rather ride privately in a car to avoid both types of people– the ones who don’t comply with the rules and engage in racist tirades, and the ones who act like mask cops and pay their kids to publicly call out rule breakers.
I have repeatedly stated that I won’t be willingly flying or cruising anywhere until the pandemic is under control, and I don’t have to be forced to wear a mask for hours while sitting in a cramped seat, being surveilled by flight attendants and other passengers after I’ve also been groped by airport security and had my bags searched. That just doesn’t sound pleasant to me, even as I understand why masks are important. I simply don’t want to spend money on that experience. For that reason, we’ll drive if and when we can travel. Mrs. Merkel did decide not to do the “hard” lockdown for Easter, but as it stands right now, most places I would want to go to aren’t taking visitors anyway.
I think, ultimately, the answer to this problem is mass vaccination and changing the way we do things. It sucks, although I do think that some of the changes could turn out to be positive. The article in The New York Times predicts disaster if the public transportation systems fail. But if people stop traveling so much for work and leisure, it seems to me that there could be a positive effect on the climate. If more people are able to work from home instead of clogging up the roads every day at rush hour, that could mean less air and noise pollution and less wear and tear on the road systems. And if people refuse to get with the program and get back on the bus as it is now, then perhaps the systems will evolve so that they are more appealing for riders. Hell… maybe more car manufacturers and municipalities will embrace electric cars instead of gas fed ones. That would be good for the environment and reduce noise pollution somewhat.
One thing I have noticed since we moved to Wiesbaden and live close to two Autobahns is that I can really hear the traffic here– both from the massive roads and the flights coming in to Frankfurt. One thing our homes in BW had over our home here is that it was a lot quieter (at least when the landlady wasn’t yelling at me about something).
I did think this article in The New York Times was interesting reading. If you have access to the NYT, I do recommend reading it for a look at how public transit systems around the world are coping, as people have stopped moving around as much. I think the people working in that industry are going to have to come up with creative and cost effective ways to make the system more attractive to riders. And that will mean they might have to consider why people are opting not to ride the bus or the train and adapt as necessary.
I can state that when I lived in Yerevan, public transportation was not comfortable. Riders were expected to cram in as much as possible, and it was not pleasant or safe. Today, I would imagine those buses that used to be stuffed to the gills with passengers are not so much, thanks to COVID-19. But in the 90s, when there wasn’t a pandemic, I remember having my crotch and my breasts explored by someone’s hands as I was mashed up against a stranger who hadn’t bathed in awhile (due to a lack of running or hot water in those days).
Public transport in Germany, pre-pandemic, was generally not that extreme, but I do remember some really crowded rides on the U-Bahn or city trains in Stuttgart. I remember there not being enough seats and almost falling on my face as the trains moved, because I had to stand in the aisle. Believe me, I have had my fill of public transportation. It’s a necessity for cities to have it available, but honestly, if you can arrange your own transport, why wouldn’t you? At least you have a say in how you will ride without having to deal with other people’s bullshit or bad behavior.
Even flying is less attractive these days. I remember how, about five years ago, a young pilot on Germanwings (now Eurowings) decided to kill himself and everyone else on the plane because he was so depressed. He deliberately crashed the plane and killed 150 people. Given how deadly COVID-19 is as it’s begun to mutate, perhaps the odds are becoming riskier for public transport users. Maybe 150 people on a bus won’t die because of COVID-19 spread, but for those who get the illness, it could mean long term disability and a permanent change of lifestyle.
Incidentally, my comments on not wanting to spend money to ride planes, trains, buses, or cruises don’t mean that I’m an “anti-masker”, either. I do follow the rules. A person can agree with the necessity for wearing masks, yet still hate the goddamned things and do what they can to avoid having to wear them. My need to travel is not so great that I have to get with the program, but I understand that I write from a place of extreme privilege. I know most people don’t have the choices I have. My point is, nowadays, since there is a pandemic, one really does take his or her life in their hands when one uses public transportation. City transportation experts should probably consider that, and act and change accordingly.