Photo Courtesy National Geographic
Photo Courtesy National Geographic

It’s time to go to work. The COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, and—in this vision of the future—trains and buses are running again. But things look different than they used to. You pay your fare without touching anything. Seats are spaced farther apart on divider-filled vehicles, while drivers sit in ventilated compartments, isolated from passengers.

Smartphone apps may help decongest trains and buses. And with more people choosing to bike, walk, or work from home, packed train cars have become part of the pre-pandemic lore.

While it’s impossible to predict the future, interviews with transportation and public-health experts suggest that the pandemic offers an opportunity to reshape transit systems and revive cities, with the potential to ward off infectious disease and even some chronic illnesses. And while lockdowns have put public transport in a state of crisis for the moment, strategic investment, creative thinking, and new technologies could eventually make people feel safe enough to ride again, says Yingling Fan, an urban planner at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. “There’s certainly a lot of challenge, but also there’s a lot of opportunity,” she says.

The pandemic might also open up possibilities for making transit systems more inviting.

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