Cities, Coronavirus and Public Transport – a report published by Greengauge 21 – examines the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on cities and public transport. It argues that cities have always relied on public transport and concludes that the economic recovery of cities will be held back until public transport is fully operational and fully accepted by the public as safe to use.
During the pandemic, many people have been working from home rather than commuting to offices. However, the report points out that journeys to work account for fewer than one in five of all journeys and office-based work accounts for a minority of jobs.
Greengauge 21 suggests some practical steps for government that will help economic recovery. The report provides evidence that government itself is a crucial city-based activity that spawns its own business infrastructure. This is an added reason why dispersal of central government functions – as well as devolution of powers – is so crucial to regional growth. “These are suitable tactics to help regional economic recovery,” said report author Jim Steer.
In the initial stages of re-opening the economy, the government has felt it necessary to keep public transport use restricted to essential travellers only. This has hit cities hard. And, the Greengauge 21 report argues, it is leading to a return of poor air quality levels. These have their own adverse health consequences.
“There is also now evidence,” Jim Steer added, “that poor air quality helps sustain the spread of coronavirus.” And road traffic is a key source of poor air quality.
What does he suggest is the answer? “We have to begin the shift away from this newly increased reliance on the private motor vehicle,” was his answer, says Jim Steer, adding that, for short journeys, walk or cycle is the best answer. For medium length and longer journeys, travellers can now turn to public transport, which government has diligently kept alive through the lock-down period and which is now once again being promoted as a safe mode of transport, provided passengers follow the rules.
However, it is now time, argues the Greengauge 21 director, to stop assuming that the bus and rail networks exist on separate planets. “When joined together through a simplified common fare system, they can achieve so much more than when operating in isolation from one another,” he stressed.
Public transport should be seen as a network, the Greengauge 21 report argues. The various routes of the public transport network generally come together in city centres, where passengers can easily transfer from one route to another. “Even if footfall is down in city attractions for now,” Jim Steer concluded, “our national transport system needs to be joined up and resurgent to allow people to reduce their personal carbon foot-prints and to help ensure the calm, quiet, breathable era of the lockdown has a legacy with at least one positive aspect.”