Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Transit ridership recovery shows a fundamental change in how and why people travel


Since the summer of 2020, transit ridership in Metro Vancouver has been slowly climbing. In February, transit ridership was 64.5% of pre-COVID levels. The following graph shows transit ridership by service.

Graph of TransLink transit ridership recovery. Select graph to enlarge. Source: TransLink

What I find interesting is that West Coast Express ridership has only recovered to a maximum of 28 percent of pre-COVID levels. I think this shows a fundamental shift in travel patterns.

Before the pandemic, I worked in a Downtown Vancouver office. Our company has shifted to remote work for good though it still maintains office spaces. Less than 5% of the staff use the office on any given day in Vancouver. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to the office in the last two years. Where I work also has an office in Texas where COVID restrictions have been long dropped. The number of people that access that office on any given day is also tiny.

I no longer use transit to get to work daily, but I still use transit for other activities like accessing shops, services, visiting people, or recreation.

Pre-COVID, a lot of people took transit to get to work in Downtown Vancouver. As a result, transit services skewed to this market.

Most transit systems in North America heavily skewed to serving 9-to-5 commuters.

In Metro Vancouver, due to the vision of our region, TransLink has invested in providing a solid all-day frequent transit network that offers good service to almost all areas of our region.

Because TransLink has a good all-day network, transit ridership has recovered faster than most other places in North America.

The federal and provincial governments gave transit agencies operating grants due to COVID, but those grants will not last forever.

If 9-to-5 commuters do not return to Downtown Vancouver at the same pre-COVID levels, it will allow TransLink to adjust the transit network. TransLink can adapt the network towards providing more frequent all-day service instead of focusing on the traditional morning and afternoon peak periods. Combined with on-road transit priority measures such as bus lanes, transit could become a viable option for more trips in our region.

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