With cheap gas and proximity anxiety, transit ridership forecast to remain below pre-COVID-19 levels after pandemic

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      TransLink isn’t expecting riders to all come back anytime soon.

      A report to the board of the regional transportation authority projects ridership to remain below pre-COVID-19 levels.

      This situation is forecast to persist for some time, with the pandemic’s impact likely lasting five years.

      With cheap gas and anxieties of over getting close to other people, previous transit users may switch to cars and remain on the wheel even with the passage of COVID-19.

      “Transit ridership will likely remain well below pre-COVID levels until some time after the pandemic and its recovery will be heavily dependent on the degree to which people still feel some lasting proximity anxiety; rates of unemployment; and the degree to which the roughly half of workers in our region that are able to work from home, continue to do so,” wrote Geoff Cross, vice president for transportation planning and policy with TransLink.

      Cross’ report is included in the meeting agenda of the TransLink board Thursday (June 18).

      “There is a risk that previous regular transit users will start making more of their trips instead by automobile for understandable reasons, and that these habits will stick post-pandemic,” Cross noted.

      According to Cross, a “key near-term transportation objective during this pandemic period should be to minimize resident’s needs for new single-occupant auto trips”.

      “The low fuel prices in the region exacerbate this challenge,” Cross wrote.

      In a media release on June 10, 2020, TransLink reported that systemwide boardings are “currently at around 33 per cent of the levels they were at last year”.

      In his report, Cross made the following suggestions to deal with increased driving, including ridehailing:

      -Reduction of space to drive and park cars by allocating road lanes to other uses

      -Increase price of driving, like a near-term increase in fuel sales tax

      -Marketing campaign to discourage unnecessary driving

      -Charging infrastructure for electric vehicles to ensure climate goals are not compromised

      -Urgent bus priority measures to avoid buses getting stuck in worsening congestion

      -Permanent inter-municipality business licenses for ride-hailing companies, with a focus on pricing to mitigate congestion impacts

      In his report, Cross noted that physical distancing requirements have “significantly reduced travel demand”.

      This applies not just to Vancouver, but to many cities and countries as well.

      “The pandemic has led, in particular, to increased concerns about being in shared environments with many other people – something which is difficult to avoid in urban environments and especially while riding public transit,” according to Cross.

      In a separate report, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond wrote that boardings on the Expo and Millennium lines of SkyTrain totaled 24 million in the first quarter of 2020.

      “This is 3.5 million less boarded passengers compared to 2019,” according to Desmond.

      Desmond also reported that boardings in March this year numbered 5.8 million on the Expo and Millennium lines.

      “This is dramatically below the 9.5M boardings normally seen in March,” according to Desmond.