UNITED STATES – COVID-19 literally brought California to a standstill. As you can imagine, the demand for public transport has decreased since the stay at home orders came into effect. Even as the Golden State opens up, Californians don’t seem that interested in returning to Caltrans. In fact, many analysts are striving to understand how COVID-19 can permanently transform transportation in California.
While no one knows what the transit will look like after COVID, some trends are emerging. Hopefully these data points will help executives in Sacramento develop actionable transportation policies to keep California moving.
The Mass Transit Meltdown – How COVID Threatens California’s Public Transportation Sector
There is no way to gloss over the devastating effects of COVID-19 on public transportation. New reports suggest that the average number of mass transit journeys in the US fell nearly 60 percent in 2020. With more people avoiding crowded subways and buses, there is little evidence that these numbers will rise again anytime soon.
In fact, new data from Google shows that public transportation demand in California continues to be well below pre-pandemic levels. Tech-savvy San Francisco has been hit particularly hard by the stay-at-home economy. According to Google, the SFMTA driver count fell 70 percent below the average. While these declines aren’t as dramatic as in other California cities, Google estimates that the number of drivers in Los Angeles and San Diego is at least under 50 percent.
At this point in time, public transport can only survive with government aid – and that is exactly what the cities are getting with President Biden’s American rescue plan. That $ 1.9 trillion stimulus bill raised at least $ 30.5 million for public transportation. Units like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Highway, and the Transportation District say that relief should help them retain hundreds of employees through 2021.
While the federal incentive will undoubtedly help, public transport still faces a bleak future. Although scientific data suggests buses are much safer than bars, surveys suggest that many people are not happy with local transport. Public transport executives need to rethink their business model if they are to survive after COVID.
So long subways! – The rise in used cars
Just because Californians don’t use local transportation doesn’t mean they don’t drive around the state. Indeed, COVID-19 appears to have revitalized the used car market.
Car dealers like CarMax saw demand spike during the COVID-19 pandemic. New figures in California also show that gasoline sales are steadily increasing every month. While gas sales were below 44 percent in March 2020, they rose to below 16 percent by November.
What’s even more noticeable is that the February 2021 traffic reports show that car traffic in San Francisco is only 13 percent lower than before the pandemic. In contrast, the demand for mass transit in San Francisco remains 70 percent below average.
Many environmentalists have raised concerns about this so-called “carpocalypse”. Even if cars are “electrified”, they still make a significant contribution to global warming. Environmental politicians have urged lawmakers to look for ways to build trust in local public transport or increase funding for environmentally friendly transit options.
But environmentalists are not the only ones concerned about this increase in car traffic. Although the total number of accidents has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, California police have noted an increase in extreme speeds.
According to an accident study, CHP distributed at least 46 percent more tickets in 2020 than before COVID. When police responded to speeding accidents, they said there was a higher chance someone would be killed or seriously injured.
With California reopening, leaders must consider the environmental and safety implications of increased motoring. One suggested solution is to pay more attention to … “Pedal Force!”
Slow Roads and Bicyclists – The Post-COVID Commuter Traffic in California?
On the upside, COVID-19 appears to have inspired more Californians to wipe their bikes. Indeed, as more and more Americans sought out socially distant transit options, the sale of bicycles went over the roof. Interestingly, there was also an increase in e-scooter rentals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With fewer vehicles on the road, more people felt comfortable driving through cities in 2020. To better accommodate cyclists, cities like Oakland and San Francisco blocked several streets for through traffic. These so-called “slow streets” gave pedestrians and cyclists more space to get where they needed to go.
It is currently unclear whether initiatives such as “Slow Streets” will persist long after COVID-19 has passed. However, if more people become interested in micromobility, cities will likely invest in projects that have more to do with walkability. According to recent polls in LA, more than 80 percent of locals want “slow streets” to persist after the pandemic.
One thing is certain: local executives have never been as open to radical infrastructure changes as they are today. Cycling communities are confident that cities will use this opportunity to create greener, healthier cities.