Bogotá, Colombia's temporary cycle lane.

November 17, 2021

STA Nominee Cities Show Robust Transit Responses to COVID-19

Across the globe, many cities swiftly responded to challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to transportation. They contended with public health-based restrictions, new community needs, and the threat of increased private car travel in response to social distancing guidelines. 

As part of the 2022 Sustainable Transport Awards, MOBILIZE asked nominated cities to detail how transport adapted to their uncertainty and their “new normal.” Common across nominated cities were public health measures on transportation systems, like half-capacity restrictions and masking requirements, sanitation efforts, and new contactless fee payment systems. Others used this as an opportunity to revisit payment, like Guadalajara, Mexico, which did away with transit fees, recognizing the economic toll of the pandemic and lockdowns.

Ultimately, many cities saw in the pandemic opportunities to implement new sustainable transport programs and seized these opportunities. For example, COVID-19 induced crunches encouraged Charlotte, North Carolina, United States mandated a change to vehicle acquisition, focusing on true cost to own (TCO) for its vehicle fleet. This accelerated the city’s commitment to electrification, as it’s fleet will now be 100% electric by 2030.

Repurposing Public Transit

In India, cities repurposed the existing transportation infrastructure for public health use. The Mo Bus system in Bhubaneswar, India is one of several that put its vehicles to work even during lockdowns that halted regular service. Mo Bus used its fleet to transport COVID patients and deliver groceries to those in quarantine, and it converted bus stops to vegetable stands. In Hubballi Dharwad, India, public transport vehicles were converted to mobile clinics, including wash basins and examination tables used by a nurse and doctor on staff. These clinics rode through containment zones to treat sick patients. Surat, India used its fleet to transport migrant workers and medical personnel, and refitted vehicles as ambulances, sample-collecting units, and food distributors. 

In Bhubaneswar, India, a bus stop is converted into a vegetable stand. Temporary measures like these allowed people to practice social distancing while still fulfilling their daily needs.

Pop-up Bicycle lanes and Pedestrian Areas

Social distancing measures increased demand for bikeable and walkable spaces. In response, many cities created pop-up bikelanes. Bogotá, Colombia created 84 kilometers of emergency bike lanes over the course of the pandemic and 28 kilometers of these lanes will remain permanent. Cities like Medellín, Colombia; Rosario, Argentina; and Bengaluru, India also deployed pop-up bike-lines and converted streets to pedestrian-only public spaces, supporting outdoor socialization and small businesses (for example, Church Street in Bengaluru). Over the course of the pandemic, cities saw bike ridership increase (by 400 percent in some main roads in Bogota) and many plan to make permanent the temporary pedestrian- and cycling-focused interventions. 

In Bangalore, India, a street is closed off from cars, making it a walkable and cyclable space for residents looking to safely spend time outdoors.
In Vancouver, Canada, temporary bike lanes were created with simple measures - like cones and paint - to keep the growing numbers of cyclists safe.
Bogotá, Colombia's temporary cycle lanes were put in place to alleviate congestion and support the growing number of cyclists in the city.

Using Big Data to Keep Passengers Safe

Cities such as Harbin, China and Moscow, Russia used cameras in buses and stations to monitor passenger load in efforts to reduce capacities and enforce social distancing measures. Cities also used e-fare systems to contact-trace, alerting riders if they might have come into close contact with a passenger who later tested positive for COVID-19. The metropolitan government in Seoul, South Korea analyzed big data to track congestion within public transit, so passengers could decide which train cabin to board based on indoor crowds. Cities like Vancouver, Canada studied traffic data to target sidewalks that needed widening, responding to pandemic-caused changes in travel patterns. 

In Seoul, South Korea, real-time passenger loads allowed people on the metro to divert themselves to less full cars.

The STA-nominated cities have shown that quick and innovative responses in transport can help communities in times of crisis. They have demonstrated that action can be swift and decisive when political will demands it, and that many changes will have permanent positive effects as cities transition to a “new normal.” The pandemic has pushed cities to be more creative, adaptive, and inclusive and to make necessary responses that will benefit passengers and systems alike in the present as well as in the long-term.

Learn more about this year’s STA nominees here


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