When there is a pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, public health officials told people to stay home. But many could not. Basic workers – grocery store cashiers, health workers, chefs, drivers and cooks – continued to arrive every day. Others went out to get groceries, or to see doctors, or to take their children to school. So across the U.S., including Pittsburgh, Americans continued to ride the bus.
yes, public transport ridership fell like a stone after many places introduced orders to stay at home. In the last week of February 2020, the Americans transported 186 million transit rides data collected by the American Public Transportation Association; a month later that number fell 72 percent to 52.4 million. At the Allegheny County Port Authority, which operates in the Pittsburgh area, the number of passengers has fallen by 68 per cent.
Who continued to ride? In a country where the race is tied to economic circumstances and geography, transit drivers have long been disproportionately low-income and skin-colored people. It may not have been a surprise, but they were the riders who stayed. An APTA analysis found that white men were more likely to give up transit during a pandemic; colored men, men who speak Spanish, and women not.
“The pandemic has made the invisible visible,” Stephanie Wiggins, executive director of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said in November. Her peers across the country realized: They had to better serve the people they needed.
By November 2020, the Pittsburgh Transit Agency had made dramatic changes. Among more than 20 major changes in bus services, officials have shifted resources from “suburban” routes – those that serve people who have done traditional office work on a traditional schedule, who are now mostly at home – and to lower-income neighborhoods, those with a higher proportion of colored people and car-free households. They added more services on weekends and out of hours, as many people who continued to ride buses and light rail either worked outside the usual “peak hours” or used transit just to get around.
“Public transport is an equalizer, a way to provide access to marginalized communities,” said Adam Brandolph, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh agency. “The pandemic has changed the way we were perceived, but also, just as importantly, the way we perceive our riders.”
Researchers from the Urban Institute, think tank, found similar views in four other transit agencies interviewed leaders and staff. “They were really explicit that the Black Lives Matter moment and the vulnerability of the pandemic really influenced the way management thought about the role of transit,” said Jorge Morales-Burnett, research assistant at the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center. of his interlocutors. Across the country, one word echoes from community meetings, press releases, official speeches: justice.
Justice, in theory, has always been at the heart of public transport. Agencies are legally obliged to provide equal services for all in their community. Even before the pandemic, some agencies started capital-focused programs.
But U.S. public transportation has generally focused on commuters, especially those with a traditional 9 to 5 schedule, who travel between the city’s outskirts and downtown business districts – drivers who are less likely to have low incomes and are more likely that they will be white. And this despite the fact that, even in the largest cities, where the use of transit is more frequent, only half of the trip before the pandemic was to and from work. In smaller systems the share is even smaller. The Allegheny County Port Authority is no exception. “Our system is very focused on the city center and throughout history has relied heavily on commuters,” said Brandolph, a spokesman. As a result, the urban service, which serves people with less regular work schedules or who have used transit for other purposes, has failed.