The Effects of COVID-19 on Public Transit Ridership in the Bay Area

The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts have significantly and negatively impacted transit ridership and revenues in the San Francisco Bay Area (and, indeed, across the nation). These impacts have been manageable thanks to timely federal relief that kept transit operators afloat. However, relief funds will be exhausted within the next few years, while transit ridership and farebox revenues show few signs of returning to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. As federal relief funds dwindle, transit's challenges are only expected to worsen. This project seeks to better understand the core reasons for the reductions in Bay Area transit ridership that are pushing the region’s transit agencies towards a so-called “fiscal cliff”. The research is focused primarily on identifying the core reasons for the decline in ridership (problem diagnosis). It will also identify and evaluate operational, financial, and policy options for addressing the ridership challenge in the short- and long term (solution strategies). The research will analyze quantitative data on transit ridership and related economic activity.  This quantitative analysis will be supplemented with qualitative research, including key informant interviews with transit experts and a review of trends affecting work and travel in the post-pandemic world.

Principal Investigator: 
Richard W. Lee / Charles R. Rivasplata
PI Contact Information:

San Jose State University

June 2023 to May 2024
Impacts/Benefits of Implementation: 

This research will provide transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and state policy makers with key insights into the causal factors driving reduced transit ridership in the Bay Area and beyond during the pandemic period and after. In addition to information on the causes (diagnosis), the research will also identify targeted policy, planning, financial, and operational options for addressing these challenges in the Bay Area and beyond.

Furthermore, from the perspective of California’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the loss of transit ridership in the Bay Area and its slow recovery threatens statewide goals for emissions reductions as auto traffic volumes and congestion have largely returned to pre-pandemic conditions. This research project will identify promising options for state, regional, and local partners to pursue in order to reinvigorate Bay Area transit ridership and its social and environmental benefits.

Project Number: 



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