Public transit and viral plagues in the U.S.

As soon as the coronaplague hit Massachusetts, Boston’s government-run public transit system (MBTA) cut its schedule. Despite the reduced number of people trying to move around, the result was packed trains (March 17 photos), perfect for spreading more plague.

I wonder if this is a good argument for why we need completely automated trains. As the U.S. gets more and more packed with humans (see “Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065” (Pew)), coronavirus-style plagues are inevitable. If mass transit systems have to cut schedules, perhaps due to human workers choosing not to show up and expose themselves (see “With unlimited paid sick leave for coronavirus symptoms, why will anyone work?”), the result will be a government-run service spreading the plague that other government agencies, e.g., public health, are trying to contain.

New York City (“Wuhan on the Hudson”?) seems to be the worst-hit region of the United States and it is also the place where Americans are most likely to take subway trains.

(Anecdotally, U.S. trains are far more packed than the ones I rode on Chinese metro systems in Shanghai (metro population pushing 35 million) and Suzhou (comparable to Boston). The Chinese trains run so frequently, often every 1-3 minutes, that they are less crowded than Boston and New York City trains. It might also help that there are a lot of lines and that the trains are fast.)

Readers: What do you think? To reduce the impact of the next plague in the U.S., should we invest in automated transit systems that can run with good amounts of social distance during plague periods?


3 thoughts on “Public transit and viral plagues in the U.S.

  1. Subway trains in NYC are running a full schedule. Trains are mostly empty – three or four people per car is common.

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