Public transport brings people together and equal opportunities to all citizens, as the accessible and affordable option to ensure access to public services. It plays a crucial role in local development, offering mobility to all and maintaining territorial and social cohesion, leaving no one and no place behind after the crisis.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), seven million premature deaths are due to air pollution. It accounts for one-third of deaths from the leading non-communicable diseases (stroke, lung cancer, heart attacks and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Over 90% of the world’s population live in areas where air pollution exceeds safe levels. There must therefore be no ‘back to normal’ where it is dangerous just to breathe.
According to the European Environment Agency, public transport is four times more efficient per pax-km than private cars. Every kilometer travelled on public transport saves 95 grams of GHG emissions and 19 grams of NOx compared to motorised private transport.
Investing in health prevention by reducing air pollution would bring down the cost of treating non- communicable diseases in the 21st century. A significant part of the health solution would involve equipping cities and their inhabitants with integrated public transport, reducing risks from traffic injuries, obesity, air pollution and noise. Those would benefit all and reduce the social inequalities in front of these hazards3.
Decreased traffic resulting from the lockdown in many cities shows that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations can rapidly be reduced by up to a third. While in the current crisis, several cities have decided to suspend existing car use and parking restriction policies or delay new ones to help healthcare workers and essential deliveries, it is vital that these proven instruments for cleaner air be fully reactivated as soon as possible. The main risk for catching Covid-19 is undoubtedly contact with an infected person, and healthcare quality is vital in determining outcomes. However, studies show that air pollution could matter in several ways. For example, higher death rates due to lungs and hearts weakened by dirty air. Pollutants also inflame the lungs, making inhabitants more susceptible to the virus. This raises concerns about rising pollution levels after lockdowns.
If we are to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C as per the Paris Agreement, we must cut global emissions by 7.6% every year for the next decade. As outlined in the UITP Declaration on Climate Leadership4, this requires more ambitious national commitments and tougher targets to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Non-state actors like the public transport sector have shown increased determination and commitment to achieving a low-emissions future and harnessing related opportunities. The fastest and most cost-efficient way to decarbonize people’s daily mobility and reduce the footprint of their mobility choices is to promote public transport, walking, and cycling.