San Francisco is poised to close up to 40 of its busy 68 bus routes due to the financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This is according to an agreement arrived at during the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency (SFMTA) meeting last week. According to the organization, the fares in the city have dropped by 90%, making it infeasible for most buses to continue operating.
This announcement means that commuters will have to revert to using personal cars, a situation that could spur air pollution to new levels. The start of the pandemic presented some good news when air pollution associated with traffic was reduced. However, with many cities reopening and buses closing down, more people will be forced to start using private cars to commute to work and back home.
Related: Air pollution climbing back to pre-pandemic levels
In San Francisco alone, there were 68 bus routes before the start of the pandemic. Just a few months later, the city may only be left with 28 bus routes to serve over 700,000 daily commuters. At the peak of the pandemic, the number of bus lines in the city had dropped to 17. When things started to pick up, most operators revived operations, but they were met with a grim reality on the ground.
According to the senior manager of SFMTA, service cuts are the only way for the organization to remain operational. Most buses are not providing any profits given that social distancing measures have to be observed. Further, people are afraid of using public transport due to the risk of contracting the virus. Imposed bus fare hikes to compensate for decreased passenger loads have been barred. This leaves operators with limited options but to take some of the vehicles off the roads.
While cutting down the number of operational buses may be the only option, it poses problems for the environment and those who rely on public transit. All the environmental gains made over the past few months risk being eroded. The 700,000 daily commuters in the city will also have to find new, possibly costlier, ways to get to their destinations.
The same situation is expected to be replicated in other cities around the world. As many countries try to slowly reopen, bus operators will either have to impose fare hikes or cut down their operations.
Image via Dave Noonan