The once bustling San Francisco Bay Area used to be a highly sought-after metropolis by those looking to propel their career trajectory at a big tech company. But like everything else in the past two and a half years, the pandemic changed that reality and subsequently altered the dynamic of public transportation. Reporting from the Mercury News revealed that for the first time in decades, car-centric Los Angeles has more transit riders than the Bay Area. Here’s what we learned about the reshaping transit systems in California:
Regaining ridership at different rates. According to the Mercury News, from 2019 to 2021, Bay Area transit lost 283 million rides while Los Angeles only lost 157 million. As of June 2022, Los Angeles County has recovered 71% of its ridership compared to 55% in the Bay Area.
WFH versus working class. As many Silicon Valley workers shifted to hybrid or fully remote work during the pandemic, trains and buses previously packed with commuters are a rarity these days in the Bay Area. Comparatively, 30% of Los Angelenos, some of the nation’s poorest public transit riders, continued to commute on the bus during the pandemic.
“Choice” versus “Dependent” riders. Choice riders, usually higher-income, opt for rail transit, and transportation agencies tend to prioritize those commuters by building mass rail systems with the expectation of higher fare revenues. The flexibility buses have to reach beyond wealthy neighborhoods is an essential means for lower-income residents dependent on public transportation to commute. Los Angeles bus operators reported a 74% recovery in ridership, surpassing even New York City and Bay Area’s bus systems.
As the usability of public transportation in California becomes clearer, billion-dollar budgets set aside to improve and expand public transit are being reevaluated by commuters and policymakers. These plans include the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s contingent $9.1 billion expansion to San Jose and the high-speed rail meant to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles, which has gone over budget and barely been constructed.