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After a drastic drop because of COVID, Metro transit ridership is reportedly gradually recovering from roughly 70%. The state and county’s relatively rapid steps toward reopening are proceeding more quickly than Metro’s slow crawl to restore transit service. By Mar. 2021, many bus lines were operating at about two-thirds of pre-COVID levels. This is likely to result in overcrowded buses.
In 2019, the system saw about 1.2 million weekday daily riders, and this continued through Feb. 2020. But during the first wave of the pandemic, it quickly dropped by about 70%, to about 360,000 daily riders in Apr. 2020. By the summer and fall, ridership gradually rebounded, to a pandemic high of about 600,000 in Oct. 2020 – essentially half of pre-pandemic ridership. Then, during the winter COVID spike, ridership went down again.
But now, as vaccinations are in full swing and cases continue to decline, ridership is again rebounding. Ridership in Mar. was again nearly 600,000, which is about half of pre-pandemic levels. The most recent data, from Mar. 2021, reportedly shows that bus ridership has risen to just over half — 51.3% —of pre-COVID levels, while March 2021 rail ridership is at just 39 percent.
A problem with ridership starting to go back to pre-pandemic normalcy is the differing recoveries between different transit lines. Because of the pandemic, Metro made cuts to bus service — by 29%— and to rail —by 14%. Then in Sep., the Metro board approved its FY21 budget with overall 19.2% service cuts, with bus service being cut by 20.3%.
And though overall bus ridership has recovered to just over 50% of pre-COVID levels, a few bus lines have already recovered to nearly 80% of pre-COVID ridership. geophysicist Ian Rose told StreetsBlog that “lines in South and East L.A. have recovered more of their ridership than in most other areas.” Broadly, it appears that lines that carried high numbers of students and office commuters have recovered less than others that presumably serve lower-income essential workers.
According to Rose, the Metro bus lines with the highest recovery are:
Of Metro’s 30 highest-performing lines pre-COVID, which carry the bulk of Metro ridership, the highest most recovered are:
With schools reopening this month, and the state planning a full reopening in June, buses are bound to get crowded. However, Metro is already reportedly working to restore service back to where the agency was a year ago. And once regular boarding resumes, Metro fares and passes will be half-off for at least six months – under a program approved in May 2020.