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Covid-19 And Public Transit: Considerations For Building Back Ridership

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Revitalizing Public Transit

Although many blame the lack of trust in our public transit systems on the pandemic, the reality is that ridership has been declining for years. From 2012 to 2018 — long before the pandemic arrived — passenger trips on busses had declined every year. Decaying systems are becoming underfunded and ineffective, driving people away from using transit systems. At the same time, ride-sharing and car-sharing apps have become increasingly popular, making it easier than ever to avoid public transportation. The new administration in the U.S. is extremely focused on sustainability goals, which means that there may be increased support for the public transit industry to improve infrastructure. Unfortunately, public transit agencies have a lot to consider in order to increase ridership after the pandemic. Here are some key considerations to build back for public transit operations looking to build back ridership after the pandemic:

Digitization and mobile experiences

People are relying on their mobile devices for more and more tasks, including the above-mentioned ride- and car-sharing apps. To keep up with customer demands, transit agencies need to digitize their services to help improve customer convenience. This could include shifting to online payment options for fares and monthly passes. It could also include upgrading pass options to be entirely mobile. Passes would be stored on a customer’s phone, reducing the chance of losing them, and would be scanned when riding a bus or train. Finally, transit agencies need to have apps where customers can find information and schedules quickly and conveniently. With many businesses becoming mobile-first, customers are beginning to expect this type of experience.

Multi-channel mobility

We’ve likely all seen bike shares popping up around the city, and maybe we’ve even heard of the new trend towards electric scooter shares. The key for transit agencies will be to combine these elements into their transportation plan. This is already happening in Minneapolis, where they’re creating mobility hubs that combine buses, scooters, bikes and carshare. By combining multiple modes of transportation, customers can go further than their typical bus routes allow. It also encourages them to find sustainable alternatives for transportation, even if the customers aren’t interested in using buses or trains. Finally, it can help to increase revenue for transit agencies by diversifying their services into bike and scooter shares, all of which can be paid to the transit authority.

Health and safety

The pandemic has renewed the focus on health and safety in every industry, but public transit has been especially scrutinized. Confined spaces and a lack of ventilation make buses, trains, and subways dangerous as viruses can spread more easily. This means that public transit agencies will need to consider how to make mass transit safer for their riders. Increased sanitization methods are likely already in place but will need to be maintained after the pandemic ends. There will also need to be investments into better HVAC systems to increase air circulation and filtration. Even after the pandemic ends, people will want to be careful with their health. Public transit agencies are doing all they can to keep customers safe, which can help bring renewed trust in these systems.

As we look towards sustainability goals, public transit plays an important part in providing eco-friendly transportation options — but only if people are using them. During this period of fluctuation, as public transit agencies adjust their offerings for the pandemic, now is an important time for them to invest in infrastructure and systems that can drive up ridership. This can help them thrive long after the pandemic ends.

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