Restoring public transit amid COVID-19: What European cities can learn from one another


From McKinsey & Co.

The past several weeks have seen European cities such as London, Munich, and Paris relax lockdown measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. With those adjustments has come a challenge: enabling people to get around. For many who live, work, and attend school in cities, getting around means taking a bus or train—and often riding shoulder to shoulder with fellow passengers. So how can all those people cross town using public transit while keeping a safe distance from one another?

The short answer is that they can only do so in much smaller numbers than before. Maintaining physical distancing will reduce the capacity of public-transport systems to between 15 and 35 percent of prepandemic levels. Metro systems, built for high passenger density, may see the steepest reductions. Transport for London, the government body responsible for the public-transportation system in Greater London, estimates that with 2.0 meters (approximately 6.5 feet) of physical distancing, the London Underground, or Tube, will be able to carry 13 to 15 percent of the passengers that it normally does, even at full service. McKinsey analysis of regional rail lines in the Netherlands suggests that the capacity of those lines could be cut to 20 to 25 percent because of physical-distancing rules requiring 1.5 meters (approximately five feet) of separation between people.

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