Recovery of urban transit in the balance as work from home remains an option

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      A report says public urban transit in Canada has posted its first year-over-year ridership increase since the start of COVID-19.

      Although health-related restrictions start to ease, such as what is happening in British Columbia effective July 1, it remains to be seen whether transit will recover to pre-pandemic levels.

      Statistics Canada notes this question “especially if some form of working from home continues to be an option”.

      “According to recent results from the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions, among businesses that adopted working from home as a measure during the pandemic, just over half (57.7%) are likely to require employees to come back to work on-site,” the agency states in a report  Wednesday (June 30).

      The report also noted that in April 2021, the number of Canadians working from home grew by 100,000, for a total of 5.1 million people.

      The number represents 30.6 percent of “non-absent workers”.

      “Monthly data reported since April 2020 clearly indicate a strong negative relationship during the pandemic between the proportion of people who worked from home and transit ridership, with both series tending to move in opposite directions,” Statistics Canada reported.

      In Metro Vancouver, a May 27, 2021 media release by TransLink indicated that the regional public transportation agency lost 52 percent of its ridership because of the pandemic.

      “TransLink retained 48 per cent of its ridership in 2020, second only to Los Angeles,” the agency stated.

      “Even at the lowest point of the pandemic, approximately 75,000 people still relied on transit every day, including many essential workers,” TransLink also reported. 

      In the release, TransLink stated that “working from home and public health restrictions caused ridership in 2020 to fluctuate greatly…”

      The B.C. provincial government will move to Step 3 of its four-step restart plan on Thursday (July 1).

      This involves the removal of pandemic restrictions, and a shift to what the government refers to as “communicable disease plans”.

      For example, indoor and outdoor personal gatherings will return to normal.

      Fairs, festivals, and trade shows will resume. Canada-wide recreational travel will be possible again.

      In a media release Tuesday (June 29), TransLink announced that in compliance with the new public health guidelines, masks will be recommended on transit starting July 1.

      This means that masks will no longer be mandatory on public transit.

      “Customers are encouraged to continue wearing masks on transit as a precautionary measure to protect themselves, fellow customers, and our employees,” TransLink stated in the release.

      In the June 30 report, Statistics Canada stated that around 50.2 million urban transit passenger trips were taken across the country in April 2021.

      “This was nearly double the 25.7 million trips taken in April a year earlier, when ridership had plummeted by more than 80% from the same month in 2019 because of the initial lockdown,” the agency reported.

      Statistics Canada alsos tated: “While April's year-over-year ridership signalled a modest recovery from the low reached a year earlier, ridership remained far below pre-COVID-19 levels.”