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TransLink may see permanent 20 per cent ridership drop due to pandemic: report

Last Updated Mar 29, 2021 at 11:24 am PDT

Surrey-Langley SkyTrain expansion project promises to connect the two growing cities. (Kelvin Gawley, NEWS 1130 photo) (Kelvin Gawley, NEWS 1130 photo)

Moody's predicting permanent 20 per cent drop in passenger demand for TransLink, similar transit systems

TransLink Mayors' Council chair says ridership levels will depends on which parts of pandemic living persist

Jonathan X. Coté says the main focus right now is to ensure the transit system is safe

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, transit ridership is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels for several years.

Moody’s Investors Service is predicting a permanent 20 per cent drop in passenger demand for TransLink, as well as similar transit systems in New York, London, and France.

Jonathan X. Coté, chair of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, says TransLink itself has come up with a similar finding. However, he notes it all depends on which parts of pandemic living persist.

“I think the biggest long-term impact to transit ridership would be the trends towards working from home and how permanent those trends become. So, certainly, if those become more the norm and more and more people work and study from home, no doubt that is going to have an impact longer-term and a permanent impact on public transit,” he told NEWS 1130, noting it’s still too early to project what will exactly be permanent.

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“We definitely do anticipate transit ridership to increase once we get through the health concerns. It has become clear that there is going to be longer-term impacts to transit ridership that could last five to 10 years,” Coté explained.

The Mayors’ Council chair says the main focus right now is to ensure the transit system is safe and that people feel comfortable using it throughout the pandemic.

However, on the longer-term side of things, he admits some big structural changes might be on the horizon about service and how transit is funded.

“Given that transit fares is the largest contributing factor to fund our transit system and would no doubt be affected by long-term declines in transit ridership,” he explained.

“I think the reality is, even with a decline in ridership into the future, public transit systems are still vitally important to cities and I think developing funding systems that don’t rely as heavily on transit fares to cover them I think is going to have to be a discussion we’re going to have in the future,” Coté added.

Moody’s predicts demand for transit will remain 40 per cent below pre-pandemic levels through this fiscal year. Coté says transit ridership is currently 50 per cent below pre-COVID time in Metro Vancouver, but the hope is that demand will rise as more people are vaccinated.

“I think TransLink is well aware that transit all over the world are facing these challenges and, certainly, I think we’re going to be looking around the world to see the work that’s being done,” he said.