This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
German study calls public transit ‘the big loser.’
Last week, the New York Times ran a news article headlined:
The article highlights the refusal of the World Health Organization (WHO) to advocate travel restrictions early in the pandemic. It turns out the free-for-all, open borders approach was a judgment call. A consensus opinion. The WHO’s experts said they knew what they were talking about. They were wrong:
Public health records, scores of scientific studies and interviews with more than two dozen experts show the policy of unobstructed travel was never based on hard science. It was a political decision, recast as health advice, which emerged after a plague outbreak in India in the 1990s. By the time Covid-19 surfaced, it had become an article of faith.
“It’s part of the religion of global health: Travel and trade restrictions are bad,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University…Covid19 has shattered that faith.
1 million human beings outside of China have died of this virus. Had different decisions been made early on, it might have been contained primarily within China’s borders.
The WHO is a UN body. Its job is to prevent diseases from spreading internationally. Not only has it failed spectacularly at that task, its bungling has undermined some of the UN’s most cherished goals.
Take public transit. UN bureaucrats aren’t keen on ordinary people making independent transportation decisions. They fancy themselves shepherds, whose job is to orchestrate certain outcomes.
The programme of a 2016 UN conference talks openly about “minimizing the role of private vehicles” while increasing “reliance on public transport systems.” Well, the UN can kiss that dream goodbye for the foreseeable future.
In early May, a polling firm asked residents of Massachusetts how they expect to get around “once the worst passes.” One in three said they’ll be less likely to travel by subway, commuter rail, bus, or taxi. One in three also expect to drive alone in their car more often, and to carpool less.
Around the time these poll results were made public, the Associated Press was describing Boston transit as beleaguered. City buses were transporting 20% of their usual ridership, subways just 8% – in a transit system that, prior to the pandemic, was already struggling to balance the books.
Last week, Germany’s Institute for Transport Research released the results of a survey conducted in that county during late June and early July (an earlier wave was conducted in April). It declares: “Public transport is the big loser of the crisis,” adding that private automobiles have become more popular.
Even before the virus appeared, half of those surveyed relied solely on private automobiles. “While 90 percent of drivers continue to drive,” says the institute, “only 46 percent of people whose everyday means of transport is public transport” are living a normal life.
Since getting to work is a major reason people need transportation, it’s worth noting that 75% of those working from home in June/July expressed satisfaction with that situation. 70% said they can imagine doing so more often in the future.
According to the researchers, the pandemic has given rise to new behaviours in German society – some of which may become permanent. It’s worth remembering that those who experienced the Great Depression frequently remained extraordinarily frugal for the rest of their lives.
How long it will take public transit to bounce back? Who knows, but it’s a good guess ridership numbers won’t be breaking records anytime soon. The WHO totally owns that.