The coronavirus pandemic hit public transport hard. Global ridership tanked initially by as much as 80 percent, and transit was still at around just 20 percent of pre-pandemic ridership at the end of 2020. There is serious concern that people will increasingly opt for private vehicles, should public transport not recuperate.

Recent research by WRI shows how ensuring public transport not only survives but thrives is crucial for a green recovery, and to transport decarbonization actions that meet Paris Agreement goals.

Public transport is crucial to addressing climate change, equity and health

For the transport sector to help keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius target of global warming in reach, high-income countries — which contribute 70 percent of global emissions and have high rates of motorization — will have to reduce vehicle travel, while developing economies will need to reduce or slow the growth of vehicle travel. The State of Climate Action report finds that the world needs to shift trips away from private vehicles between 4 percent and 14 percent compared to a business-as-usual scenario by 2030, even with strong progress on vehicle electrification.

According to the International Transport Forum, buses and trains can release up to a fifth of emissions per passenger kilometer than ride-hailing and about a third that of a private vehicle. Simply put, public transport, along with bicycling and walking, is a climate solution staring us in the face. Embracing it in this next decade will be a determining factor in reaching climate goals.

Public transport is also key to an intersectional approach to addressing climate change in the transport sector — connecting with equity, health and economic development. When done well, it can provide more equal access to jobs, education, services and other economic opportunities, particularly to those without private vehicles and in underserved areas — all at a lower cost to consumers. The transit industry also provides millions of jobs globally that are important to local economies.

Other health challenges are also addressed through public transport: Cities with good public transport have fewer traffic fatalities. Transit riders tend to have more active lifestyles (from walking home from a station, station to work, etc.), and cleaner buses carrying more people than private cars can improve air quality and reduce exposure to dangerous pollutants in traffic.

Read the full article about public transportation by Ben Welle, Rogier van den Berg, and Claudia Adriazola at GreenBiz.