Resilience and recovery of public transport use during COVID-19

Recently published:

  • Wang, Jiaoe, Huang, Jie, Yang, Haoran, and Levinson, D. (2022) Resilience and recovery of public transport use during COVID-19. npj Urban Sustainability 2(18) [doi]

To better understand how public transport use varied during the first year of COVID-19, we define and measure travel behavior resilience. With trip records between November 2019 and September 2020 in Kunming, China, we identify people who relied on traveling by subway both before and after the first pandemic wave. We investigate whether and how travelers recover to their pre-pandemic mobility level. We find that public transport use recovered slowly, as urban mobility is a result of urban functionality, transport supply, social context, and inter-personal differences. In general, urban mobility represents a strengthened revisiting tendency during COVID-19, as individual’s trips occur within a more limited space. We confirm that travel behavior resilience differs by groups. Commuters recover travel frequency and length, while older people decrease frequency but retain activity space. The study suggests that policymakers take group heterogeneity and travel behavior resilience into account for transport management and city restoration.

Fig. 1: Study area, analytical framework, and data selection. a Location of Kunming and its subway system. b Travel behavior resilience of public transport use. cThe trip rate in Kunming subway system between January and September 2020. (The supply function curve indicates how the public transport system reopened and adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resilience triangle can be calculated with the degree of mobility change, and the periods of reduction and recovery. The trip rate is calculated by the ratio of all transit trips in each week over the weekly average number of trips in November 2019, namely before the COVID-19 pandemic. As we tracked individual trip records, frequent travelers are those who accessed the subway system frequently in November 2019, and their travel frequency recovered in September 2020. The remaining travelers in November 2019 are tracked as infrequent travelers. Note that data in June and August 2020 are unavailable.).