While the future of transit ridership depends on a range of still-uncertain factors, the commuter-centric patterns that characterized pre-COVID transit service are probably a thing of the past.
Writing in Seattle Transit Blog, Sherwin Lee acknowledges the uncertainty of the future of post-COVID public transit. “Two years into the pandemic and counting, it’s fairly evident that there has been and will be no ‘v-shaped’ recovery for transit ridership,” Lee writes. “The issue is that many of the variables that go into ridership projections are still riddled with near-term uncertainty,” making it difficult to make any confident predictions about post-pandemic ridership.
But there are some trends worth noting. “Here’s a crude back-of-the-napkin analysis for calculating potential lost ridership: Roughly half of pre-COVID ridership was commuters, of which we might assume a third will now be fully remote, another third will be hybrid (commuting a few days a week), and the remaining third will go back to the office mostly full-time. Rounding out the math, that gives us a quarter of trips that will disappear forever.” Bolstering Lee’s point, “According to APTA, nationwide ridership is still hovering about 50-60% of pre-pandemic levels.”
For Lee, “What does matter is that cities and transit agencies immediately adapt to our new housing and land use reality.” For Lee, this means reducing their reliance on commuters and “downsizing peak-only services and building up frequent all-day cross-town connections,” as well as making more significant changes such as more diverse housing options and mixed-use development in more neighborhoods.
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