How Post-Pandemic Travel Trends May Affect Public Transit

Research Team: Brian D. Taylor (lead), Julene Paul, and Fariba Siddiq

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: California’s metropolitan areas have invested heavily in improving and expanding public transit systems over the past half century. But despite demonstrable improvements in transit provision, ridership was eroding in many areas during the dozen years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in most places and on most systems in California since 2016. But these dips in ridership paled in comparison to the crash in patronage that coincided with the onset of the pandemic. By the fall of 2020, most transit systems had recovered to about half of their pre-pandemic ridership, but transit’s recovery largely stalled there, even as rates of driving, walking, and biking have mostly recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Research has shown that the riders who left transit during the pandemic tended to be higher income, better educated, more likely white or Asian, and had access to private motor vehicles. Spatial patterns of ridership have shifted dramatically as well, with downtowns and other major job centers losing the most riders, and low-income neighborhoods retaining the most riders. In net, the level, timing, and direction of transit travel have changed dramatically.

Project Description: This study will draw on previous research on transit usage changes during the pandemic, and will supplement those findings with additional travel data from transit operators and mobile device services to better understand how these new patterns of transit usage are evolving as the pandemic matures and recedes. The research team will also draw on the findings from companion research on changing work and travel patterns to project likely patterns of transit use and demand in the months and years ahead to help public transit system managers and policy makers prepare for a post-pandemic transit future.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $30,000

Project Partner(s): Southern California Association of Governments