Kristin Toussaint, FAST COMPANY
Concept designs with plexiglass shields probably aren’t coming to transit. Instead, cities have to figure out how to make the systems safe and useful for the people who don’t have a choice but to use them.
As cities start to reopen, packed rush-hour subway rides seem like they’ll have to become a thing of the past: It’s hard to social distance on a packed train. But transit will still be crucial for helping people—especially lower-income residents—get around, and experts say straphangers will be back even before COVID-19 has been controlled. So what does that mean for the trains of our future?
Post-pandemic public transit might not actually look all that different. There probably won’t be partitions or more space to keep people apart, because that’s antithetical to its service. “Public transit is really good at moving a lot of people in the same direction at the same time. That’s when the music happens,” says Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and a professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA.
What could change, though, is the number of touch points a rider has to interact with on a trip; the appearance of sanitation tools on board, such as hand sanitizer or mask dispensers; the behaviors of the passengers as more people don masks and gloves in public; and how often and where trains and buses run.
“Once agencies are able to stabilize their workforces, then they can really approach this question of how to allocate service, and a lot of what agencies have to do now is just a quicker, more nimble version of what they should be doing all the time, which is responding to rider needs,” says Ben Fried of TransitCenter, a foundation that advocates for better transit in American cities. “This is obviously an extreme situation where people are worried about being able to keep their distance on vehicles, but it sort of raises the same issues that always come up for transit: Are you providing enough service for people to get where they need to go?”
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