SF and LA have had disparate recoveries from transit ridership

Transportation identities for California’s two most populous regions — the Bay Area and Los Angeles — couldn’t have been more different before the pandemic.

To the north was a region home to one of the most robust public transit systems in the country, with weekday trains overloaded with office commuters and an enviable network of buses responsible for tens of millions of monthly trips. And though Los Angeles has one of the largest transit agencies in the country, the Bay Area peer region to the south has long been more synonymous with its sprawl and widespread car use than its services. of public transport.

Nearly three years into the pandemic, the tables have turned. Not only has Los Angeles seen higher per capita transit use than the Bay Area for much of the pandemic, but this region has also made more progress in recovering its pre-2020 ridership, according to a Chronicle analysis.

National Transit Database figures from the two regions’ largest bus and rail operators chronicle their disparate recoveries.

In Los Angeles, for example, spring 2020 transit ridership never reached the dramatic lows seen in the Bay Area – where 95% of people stopped taking area trains.

Even at the height of stay-at-home orders that year, LA’s rail system was still delivering about 33% of the roughly 9 million monthly trips it saw in 2019. BART, for reference, wouldn’t reach that milestone of recovery until early 2022.

Bus ridership in both regions has recovered much faster. LA’s largest bus operators have recovered nearly four-fifths of their pre-COVID trips, compared to 65% for major Bay Area operators. SamTrans is leading the resumption of bus transit in the Bay Area – the peninsula operator’s ridership was at 75% of pre-pandemic levels in January.

Bus ridership at Muni, AC Transit and VTA is now over 60% of 2019 figures, but the influence of telecommuting is particularly evident for Golden Gate Transit. The agency only recovered 38% of its bus ridership, and trips across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco were down more than 80%.

Both regions still have a long way to go before they see transit ridership at 2019 levels, and agencies in the Bay Area and Los Angeles will benefit greatly if state lawmakers heed their pleas. to include a temporary subsidy in the state budget this year.

But, perhaps, the most telling statistic showing how the pandemic has shifted transit use in both regions is the significant changes seen in overall transit trips per capita.

Although the area has a smaller population than Los Angeles County, the larger Bay Area transit agencies have historically generated more combined monthly rides and had higher per capita ridership than transit. common of Los Angeles.

That changed during the pandemic, and as telecommuting eroded the Bay Area’s transit ridership base, LA saw more transit trips per capita.

The Bay Area again overtook Los Angeles in this category last year. But a region whose residents once dominated its car-loving counterpart in transit use now sees only about 500 more monthly transit trips per 1,000 residents than Los Angeles.

Contact Ricardo Cano: ricardo.cano@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @ByRicardoCano

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