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Study probing whether and how TransLink can rebound from COVID-19 ridership woes

Click to play video: 'Survey seeks input on how TransLink can rebound from declining COVID-19 ridership' Survey seeks input on how TransLink can rebound from declining COVID-19 ridership
Survey seeks input on how TransLink can rebound from declining COVID-19 ridership – Dec 19, 2020

Researchers at the University of Alberta and TransLink want to hear from the public about what it will take to get them back on transit.

Around this time last year, the transit agency was smashing ridership records.

TransLink recorded more than 41 million boardings in October 2019. That’s all changed under the COVID-19 pandemic — in September, it recorded just 16.5 million boardings.

Read more: Coronavirus: TransLink losses estimated at $500M to $1.4B

Emily Grise, an assistant professor of earth and atmospheric studies is leading a probe into what commuters’ anxieties are about using the system, and what they want to see change.

“What we’re looking to do is better understand how people’s perceptions of transit, particularly their safety and perception around crowding, are changing through the pandemic,” Grise told Global News.

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We’re trying to better understand how people will feel taking crowded transit vehicles in the future, and we want to better understand also what sort of safety measures and policies might be most effective in order to bring people safely and comfortably back.”

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Those changes could range from things TransLink can do, such as alter routes or bus frequency, or what other stakeholders could do.

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Grise said major employers, for example, could allow flexible work schedules that would allow commuters to travel during off-peak hours.

Read more: TransLink says ridership up 85 per cent from peak of pandemic

How TransLink and stakeholders respond could have major implications for the future of transit in the region, which Grise said risks falling into a vicious cycle.

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“Service is a big predictor of ridership. So if revenues are falling and service levels have to be cut, we can expect then to see declines in ridership (and) service levels go down,” she said.

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“In that absence of fare revenue, without having subsidies from different levels of the government, transit agencies are essentially in jeopardy of further ridership losses.”

The survey is now live and will run until Christmas. The research team will launch a second wave of public engagement later in the winter to see how people’s perceptions change, along with the pandemic conditions.

Read more: No free transit on New Year’s Eve in Metro Vancouver due to COVID-19 measures: TransLink

Grise’s team will then produce a report which they will share with TransLink and other major Canadian transit agencies facing the same woes.

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Have we forever changed our ability to feel comfortable in close proximity to strangers?” she asked.

“Or are we sort of going to revert back to normal as a pandemic sort of fades away? Those are the sort of questions that we would like to be able to answer.”

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