The Asian Development Bank called for the continuous development of public transportation systems in the Asia-Pacific region amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, foreseeing that the impact of the health crisis will be felt for years.
During the opening session of the Asia and the Pacific Transport Forum 2020, ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa said urban transportation in the region’s cities struggle to adapt in terms of financial sustainability and the new requirements for safety amid the pandemic.
“The pandemic has dealt the transport sector a massive blow that will be felt for years. Urban public transport is struggling to adapt, as enforced travel restrictions, coupled with reluctance to travel on crowded systems, contribute to sharply reduced demand,” said Asakawa.
At the same time, many public transport issues that existed before the pandemic still require action, particularly on infrastructure, road safety, and challenges in freight and public systems.
“To achieve a sustainable recovery, we need to take a holistic approach to rebuilding economies and transport systems,” said Asakawa.
He stressed the need to address the dramatic changes in the mobility of people for work and study, and to provide cost-effective transportation options for low income people. “While many will choose to continue working from home, there are millions who do not have this option. Many of them will be dependent on public transportation to go to work or school. The pandemic will also widen income disparities and force large numbers of people to fall back into poverty,” he added.
For countries with outdated and already struggling public transportation sectors such as the Philippines, the challenges will be numerous. Issues like safety, not only from pandemics, but natural disasters and accidents; have to be addressed. The greening of public transport via electric and non-motorized vehicles also has to be fast tracked. Promoting walking and cycling in our cities has be given serious consideration and made part of urban planning efforts.
Our government officials, especially those whose jobs involve the improvement and maintenance of public transport systems, if they exist, need to be on their game as our towns and cities slowly wait for recovery to come. The pandemic may have changed the way we will all be working, studying and living for the next few years but it also presents an opportunity to improve existing systems that had already been on the brink of collapse even before COVID-19 became part of our lives.*