Transit Agencies Getting Aggressive to Promote Ridership
As the Bay Area economy reopens, the regional commute is also revving up. And while new data shows commuters are choosing to return to their automobiles, Bay Area transit agencies are getting aggressive to promote ridership.
According to an analysis by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, westbound toll tags on the Bay Bridge have returned to pre-pandemic levels across all hours of the day. The average number of cars passing through the toll plaza on weekdays between 8am and 9am fell from 7,800 pre-pandemic (Feb 2020) to between 4,900 during April 2020, the first full month of the stay-at-home order. As of June 2021, the average number of cars crossing the Bay Bridge westbound between 8am and 9am is back up to 7,700. Meanwhile, transit ridership is lagging. As of June 2021, average weekday westbound transbay BART trips are 18% of their pre-pandemic norm, suggesting that many who have returned to work are choosing to drive.
Bay Area transit agencies aren’t taking the data lying down. At the urging of the Bay Area Council and other groups, BART recently increased service across its system. And the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), which is chaired by Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman and operates SF Bay Ferry, recently unveiled expanded service and reduced fares. The efforts are showing results. A story in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted a 53% jump in ridership last Friday shortly after its service changes took effect.
These early results are promising, but much work remains to restore transit ridership. As more of the regional workforce returns to the office, enabling transit agencies to offer schedules that make the transit system a realistic commute option, including full service, frequency of connections, and availability of routes offered, as well as robustly communicating to pre-pandemic riders about the safety protocols now in place, are essential steps toward ensuring that traffic does not outpace the congested road conditions the region faced prior to the pandemic.