Bus Operations of Three San Francisco Bay Area Transit Agencies during the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Research Team: Alex Kurzhanskiy (lead) and Servet Lapardhaja

UC Campus(es): UC Berkeley

Problem Statement: Mass transit is in crisis. The general decline in ridership over the past few years has been seriously exacerbated by COVID-19 and the subsequent shelter-in-place orders. It is quite possible that ridership levels will be less predictable than in the past once shelter-in-places orders are removed and the economy begins to recover. As a result, agencies will require continuous data to know how to best resume transit service, including possibly employing dynamic transit scheduling and operations in response to rapidly shifting ridership patterns.

Project Description: From March 2020 through March 2021, researchers monitored three San Francisco Bay Area transit agencies: two large –Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit), Valley Transportation Authority (VTA); and one small –Tri Delta Transit. As the lockdown was imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, white-collar commuters, students, and the elderly stopped using public transit. Initially, ridership fell 90 percent, and then over the year slowly climbed to less than 50 percent for AC Transit and VTA, and to around 60 percent for Tri Delta Transit. The pace of recovery was not steady as ridership declined during protests in June 2020, during fare reinstatements in autumn 2020 and during the second COVID-19 wave in winter 2020-21. Agencies’ responses to the pandemic consisted of three parts: 1) maintaining health and safety of their employees; 2) minimizing COVID risk for their riders by keeping buses clean and enabling social distancing through capping the number of passengers on buses; and 3) changing their service.

Status: Completed

Budget: $50,000

Project Partner(s): California Department of Transportation

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