The COVID-19 pandemic has created upheavals for the global passenger transport. Public transport systems - as the backbone of passenger transport systems - have been subjected to historic challenges due to lockdowns and distancing mandates, which calls into question their viability (SLOCAT/WRI). At the same time, informal transport systems have struggled to maintain operations and retain passengers. In reaction to largely unfounded fears of virus spreading on public transport (and temporary suspension of public transport services in countries including the Philippines), use of private vehicles has surged after a brief respite from vehicular traffic, which brought clear skies to metropolises worldwide. And a rising trend toward active transport modes has created health benefits and hopes for new paths ahead.
Policymakers have responded to challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to a wide range of passenger transport modes, with innovative solutions that are intended to protect public health while meeting transport and mobility needs and achieving sustainable development objectives.
- Public transport: Some cities have increased the deployment of bus fleets along key routes to prevent overcrowding and increase the frequency of sanitisation protocols both on board vehicles, in stations, and in maintenance facilities. (ICLEI)
- Informal transport: Many informal transport operators have been forced to innovate in response to the pandemic, including by accelerating the use of digital apps in informal transport, as in the case of matatu drivers partnering with private companies to transition to contactless fares (LSE)
- Road transport: Initiatives like the Real Urban Emissions’ Initiative’s (TRUE), which presses for zero emission zones, and the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), which supports low-carbon vehicle policies, can help improve air quality and reduce COVID risk. (FIA Foundation/SLOCAT)
- Walking: Over 250 cities in nearly 30 countries have implemented temporary strategies to reallocate road space previously dedicated to cars to create more space for people (Open Streets Database), though many proposals to make temporary measures permanent have fallen short.
- Cycling: Bicycle commuters are increasingly taking advantage of expanded cycle lanes in urban areas. While fewer than 6% of the cities implementing such measures are found in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, more examples are being rolled out month by month. (ITDP/SLOCAT)
- Aviation: Passenger airlines have reduced prices and increased flexibility in bookings to attract fliers following the onset of the pandemic. Airlines have also mandated masks, enhanced sanitation protocols, and improved air filtration systems to increase on-board health and safety.
- Maritime transport: 13 countries have provided support for shipping in recent months. More than half of known aid packages include support for ferry and cruise shipping companies, especially in countries where ferries are essential for national or international connectivity. (ITF)
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, green, equitable and resilient modes of passenger transport can help to reinvigorate societies and economies, and temporary solutions adopted at the height of the pandemic have the potential to improve quality of life when the virus ultimately loosens its hold.
This section was developed by SLOCAT Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport with contribution from Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI).