Despite Covid-19 Being At Large, Is Public Transport Demand Higher?!

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Despite the perceived risk of Covid-19 infections in public transport, more passengers might be using public transport nowadays.

Crowded train platform
Is public transport back to business as usual?
Image Source: Voicu Horațiu

Are more people taking public transport nowadays?

Lately, we’ve been coming across some surprising stats about public transport usage. A fintech company, Revolut Singapore, claimed that consumer spending on public transport has increased by a whopping 94% in March and April 2021 when the Singaporean workforce is starting to return to their workplaces. Over in the nation of “pothole mouths”, a financial service company, Jefferies, revealed “an 11-point rise in public transport usage to 89% of pre-crisis levels” in the UK.

Meanwhile, Australia’s market research company, Roy Morgan Single Source, reported in its annual survey that about 7.8 million Aussies aged 14 and above used public transport in 2020’s fourth quarter, which is a 950,000 increase from the third quarter when the figure was under 6.9 million. However, it’s worth noting that 2020’s fourth quarter figure was still a lot lower than the 11.8 million pre-pandemic usage in 2019’s fourth quarter.

A similar conclusion was seen in March 2021 when the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported a 9% increase in public transport usage compared to September 2020 but a 10% decrease compared to March 2020.

“Of the people who reported regularly using public transport before Covid-19 restrictions began, around 18% reported they had not used public transport since March 2020. After the Covid-19 pandemic, 61% expect their public transport use will remain the same, while 13% expect their use to increase and 7% expect it will decrease.”

Lisa Scanlon, ABS’ head of household surveys, explained the outcomes of the survey conducted in March 2021.

Hopping to the concrete jungle where dreams are made of (or dashed), a mobile app for trip planning, Moovit, found that public transport usage in New York City as of mid-April 2021 has more than doubled since last year’s lows (but still 36% lower than pre-pandemic usage). Interestingly, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) found from a survey of more than 33,000 riders that many New Yorkers care more about safety than health. 36% of those surveyed said that they would avoid public transport because of their fears of crime and harassment.

A generalised trend of public transport usage in 2020-2021.
Based on what has been said so far, we can conclude that public transport usage since the pandemic started is nowhere near the pre-pandemic levels of public transport occupancy but is on the rise.

Whereas, a 2021 study by Awad-Núñez, Julio, Gomez, Moya-Gómez and González titled “Post-COVID-19 travel behaviour patterns: impact on the willingness to pay of users of public transport and shared mobility services in Spain” concluded that measures such as the increase in cleaning and the provision of covers for handlebars and steering wheels increase the willingness of passengers to use public transport.

Can vaccination guarantee immunity in public transport?

Numerous studies have proven that public transport is safe only with the following conditions:

  • The passengers sit or stand far away from each other.
  • The occupancy levels allow passengers to sit or stand far away from each other, either by limiting occupancy or expanding services.
  • The passengers are not sharing a ride with the same stranger for long periods of time.
  • Everyone is wearing their masks properly.
  • Everyone is keeping their hands clean.
  • The vehicles are being cleaned properly and regularly.
  • The vehicles are well-ventilated.

However, you might have noticed that the list doesn’t include a condition that a vaccinated passenger keeps public transport safe. Vaccination increases the likelihood of protection against a targeted disease but no vaccine guarantees 100% protection:

“We know that vaccines protect the person who has been vaccinated from getting really, really sick to the point of hospitalization or death.

But we don’t know whether or not a vaccinated person can still become infected and transmit either asymptomatic infection or very mild unnoticed infection. We’re still waiting for the data.”

Dr Keri Althoff, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained the uncertainty in the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine.

A BBC Future mentioned that there are 2 main types of immunity achieved with vaccination:

  • Effective immunity: Can prevent a pathogen from causing serious health issues but cannot prevent entrance into the body or creation of copies of itself.
  • Sterilising immunity: Can prevent infections fully, which is harder to achieve and, thus, rare.
Covid-19 vaccine
We need to understand that vaccines, especially the Covid-19 vaccines, are not miraculous cures.
Image Source: Ivan Diaz

In addition, not everyone can be vaccinated. An example of people who cannot be vaccinated are people with underlying health conditions that erode their immune systems or with severe allergies to certain vaccine components.

The good news is that these people can still be protected if the people around them are vaccinated. This is referred to as “herd immunity”. Herd immunity is achieved when so many people in a group or community are vaccinated to the extent that the pathogen cannot circulate easily because most of the people it comes across are immune.

But even then, herd immunity also does not guarantee 100% protection to people who cannot be vaccinated. Herd immunity only makes them safer than without herd immunity. That’s why medical professionals are urging everyone to be careful and vaccinated people are no exception to this rule.

[You can read resources from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn how vaccines work.]

Stop complacency

Although the current public transport usage is still not as high as before, the gradual increase of passengers riding public transport daily will continue. This is a good enough reason to make sure that public transport usage is as safe as possible for as long as the pandemic goes on.

That’s why it’s much better to be safe than sorry, no matter what the Covid-19 vaccine passport says.

“… we’ll pretend we hadn’t been vaccinated—approaching things with the same precautions as we would have pre-vaccine.”

Dr. Kristin Englund, infectious diseases specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, quoted by Bloomberg.

With that said, public transport operators and passengers need to cooperate with each other in bringing Covid-19’s wrath to an end as soon as possible.

Read the article below to find out what we’re doing to help:

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