The COVID-19 pandemic poses a great challenge for contemporary public transportation worldwide, resulting from an unprecedented decline in demand and revenue. In this paper, we synthesize the state-of-the-art, up to early June 2020, on key developments regarding public transportation and the COVID-19 pandemic, including the different responses adopted by governments and public transportation agencies around the world, and the research needs pertaining to critical issues that minimize contagion risk in public transportation in the so-called post-lockdown phase. While attempts at adherence to physical distancing (which challenges the very concept of mass public transportation) are looming in several countries, the latest research shows that for closed environments such as public transportation vehicles, the proper use of face masks has significantly reduced the probability of contagion. The economic and social effects of the COVID-19 outbreak in public transportation extend beyond service performance and health risks to financial viability, social equity, and sustainable mobility. There is a risk that if the public transportation sector is perceived as poorly transitioning to post-pandemic conditions, that viewing public transportation as unhealthy will gain ground and might be sustained. To this end, this paper identifies the research needs and outlines a research agenda for the public health implications of alternative strategies and scenarios, specifically measures to reduce crowding in public transportation. The paper provides an overview and an outlook for transit policy makers, planners, and researchers to map the state-of-affairs and research needs related to the impacts of the pandemic crisis on public transportation. Some research needs require urgent attention given what is ultimately at stake in several countries: restoring the ability of public transportation systems to fulfill their societal role.
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