Car traffic is on the upswing in cities all over the world, as coronavirus lockdown measures are eased. At the same time, fewer riders are opting out on public transportation, due to fears of contagion. Consumers contemplating the purchase of a new car this year, cite fears of catching COVID-19 while riding subways, buses, trains, and taxi cabs. They just don’t want to take the chance of being in an enclosed space with those who might have the virus.
In one sense, this is a shame. One of very few positive aspects of the global pandemic has been cleaner skies. With more people staying home, there were no planes, ships, cars, trucks, or factories to burn the fossil fuels that release nitrogen dioxide into the air. According to Forbes, the reduction of NO2 was quite dramatic in some cities, with levels reduced by over 50 percent.
Now that lockdown restrictions are being lifted at least to some degree, that one positive trend stands to be reversed, as people choose cars over riding the bus or subway. People just don’t want to be standing body to body in a bus right now. This trend appears to be universal, with morning traffic higher than last year at this time in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, China, and subway traffic way below average.
That’s not to say that we’re driving more than ever before. Driving in the United States, in fact, is still down by 6% compared to usual levels, while public transportation is down by a full 71 percent. A survey of 11,000 consumers from 11 countries, meanwhile, found that 46% of the respondents plan to use their cars more, while opting out of public transport. A Detroit Free Press report on this survey found that 53% of the U.S. respondents said they would avoid public transportation in future.
In the U.S., 53% said they would be less likely to use public transportation in the future, according to a Detroit Free Press report on the survey. The survey also found that of the 35% of respondents contemplating the purchase of a car this year, a full three-quarters said that car ownership would give them better control over hygiene, while 68% said riding in one’s own vehicle reduced the chances of catching the virus, compared to public transportation or ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft.
The same survey suggests that young people who never previously owned a car are now thinking about buying one. According to the survey, 45% of those under 35 were thinking about buying a car. Half of those survey participants under the age of 35 want to use public transportation less often, in favor of using a personal vehicle, instead.
What this all means is more people buying cars, many of them at a younger age than ever before. This, of course, means even more air pollution. Which is a shame, as it effectively reverses the one bright spot in all of this: cleaner skies due to people staying in their homes and off the road.