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Transit ridership likely to remain well below pre-pandemic levels, Statistics Canada reports

A commuter on her way to work using a face mask on a double-decker bus, during a health lockdown. Getty Images

A recent study from Statistics Canada casts doubt on the idea transit ridership across Canada may fully reach pre-pandemic levels, or at least not for quite some time, even as various provinces relax COVID-19 health orders.

Using data from between April 2020 and May 2021, Statistics Canada determined for every 10 per cent increase in the percentage of people working from home, transit ridership dropped by 9.4 per cent.

An earlier survey showed just over half of businesses say they are “likely” to require employees to return to work on-site, meaning a sizeable portion of the population will remain working from home and not needing to use transit.

However, the authors point out results varied widely across the country, and across sector.

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For instance, two-thirds of businesses in accommodations and food services say they’ll ask employees to return to work in-person, compared one-third of those involved in scientific or technical services.

Regional differences also surfaced in the latest study. The four Atlantic provinces maintained more than 40 per cent of their 2019 monthly transit ridership throughout the pandemic.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan fell just short of 40 per cent, while Quebec, Ontario and Alberta were closer to 30 per cent.

Looking to the future, the authors conclude for each transit agency “it will depend on several factors such as city size as well as the underlying urban and economic structure, provincial and local government policy, health restrictions, and vaccination rates.”

“Regardless, there will be a new normal for urban transit,” the authors state.

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