A Journey to the New Normal for Public Transportation

March 30, 2020


In these times of uncertainty, transit agencies need to restore public confidence in their systems. Riders are worried about unsanitary conditions and being near potentially contagious people. Coronavirus has caused riders to feel unsafe in a way they will not soon forget. It’s more important than ever for agencies to stay in touch with passengers and to continuously learn what’s on their mind. To get citizens back onboard, mass transit must be perceived as safe to use again.


Grouping people together on transit vehicles and moving them safely to their destination doesn’t work in a pandemic. Experts promote social-distancing as the best-known strategy to keep safe from coronavirus and for now, the government recommends avoiding public transportation. The result? Ridership has plummeted, with some transits reporting a 90% decline in riders and farebox revenue. Things will get better but how will transits get these riders to return?
Transit agencies had ridership declines before the pandemic. Between 2016 and 2017, ridership declined in 31 of the nation’s 35 largest metropolitan areas. Uber and other travel options are often cited as to why people were leaving public transportation. But the perception of safety also played an important role.


LA Metro conducts extensive surveys with passengers, such as their Summer 2017 survey. Participants identified safety as one of their top concerns about Metro rail and buses. Concerns about safety appeared to stem from a combination of their personal experiences, and stories about crime passed from person-to-person by word of mouth. Previous bus & rail riders who no longer use the service reported safety on buses and safety on rail as unsatisfactory.


When riders are unhappy they want to tell someone, but how will they communicate their fears and complaints? People don’t want to make phone calls; calls are indiscrete and time-consuming. If passengers publicly post to social media, the reputation of the transit agency gets damaged. It’s best to provide a way for riders to submit concerns immediately and privately to the transit agency. Using a See Something Say Something app or similar functionality built into an e-ticketing app on their phone is ideal. Making it easy for riders to communicate concerns directly to the agency is an essential part of the journey toward restoring confidence, ridership, and farebox revenue.

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