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A year of rider report cards

What our Rider Happiness Benchmarking survey has to say about "the new normal"

November 18, 2021

En français SVP

Download the full PDF report 

For a data deep-dive: watch our webinar (complete with Q&A) featuring Transit’s own Étienne Tremblay, Kaj Huddart, and Marisa Henry, along with Saskatoon Transit Operations Manager Mike Moellenbeck.

Want detailed quarterly results specific to your transit agency? Talk to us about subscribing to Rider Happiness Benchmarking reports, so you can see how your agency performed and how you compare to similar transit systems going forward.

Four quarters. 12 months. 365 days. Transit’s Rider Happiness Benchmarking survey has given transit agencies a full year of data to better understand what riders want.

To know why the RHB is so important, it helps to rewind the clock a bit. When the world stopped spinning in the spring of 2020, we began charting how app usage had changed, city-by-city, and put it up on our website. We also put together a quick survey to help transit agencies better understand where their “essential worker” passengers were going and how the needs of riders had changed, virtually overnight.

Over the following months, that city-by-city, agency-by-agency profile of weekly ridership estimates became an official project with the American Public Transportation Association, who we partnered with to unveil the APTA Ridership Trends dashboard.

And that quick one-time survey? A few of our transit agency partners wanted a follow-up, and it became the Ridership Happiness Benchmarking program. Now, nine agencies across the U.S. and Canada have subscribed to receive a quarterly report card sourced from tens of thousands of riders making millions of trips each month.

Agencies participating in our Rider Happiness Benchmarking steering committee.

With a year of data under its belt, the RHB has some interesting things to tell transit agencies about what riders are thinking and where things are going as we start to see what a world with COVID actually looks like.

But most importantly, the survey can help agencies identify potential threats before they undermine the quality of transit service and eat away at ridership.

We’ve distilled a year’s worth of data down to four key points. Ready to dive in?

1. The “new normal” is already here

While ridership is continuing to slowly tick upwards, it will likely soon reach a new equilibrium. Every three months, we asked riders if they use public transit as often or more now than they did before the pandemic. A year ago, 47% said they rode as frequently. Then in July, that number jumped to 67% and this October, it’s up to 76% who are back on board as often or more often than pre-pandemic.

Fewer and fewer riders expect their patterns to change significantly in the coming months. A year ago, 28% of respondents expected to be working from home full-time in three months. That number fell to 18% in July and dropped to just 2% in October 2021.

In other words: most people who plan to return to commuting by transit have already done so.

2. Fear of COVID is no longer keeping many riders away

A big driver of this change is that fear of COVID has dissipated, and so has apprehension about riding. A year ago, 32% of respondents said they would return to public transit once the virus was declared no longer a threat. Three months later, that number fell to 13% and in our latest survey, it dropped yet again to just 9% of app users.

In April 2021, 27% of Canadian respondents and 61% of U.S. respondents had received at least one dose of vaccine. By July, this had increased to 90% in Canada and 83% in the U.S., then 95% and 87%, respectively, in October. In total, 88% of Canadian transit riders and 74% of American riders report being fully vaccinated, with transit riders continuing to outpace the general population.

3. Riders may be coming back, but their old patterns are not

But things aren’t like they were before. Even as people increasingly return to in-person work, not all riders are commuting every day. Of the 85% of riders who use public transit to commute to work or school regularly, 71% commute at least five days a week. The remaining 12% commute four days per week, and 17% commute three or fewer days each week.

In fact, hybrid work seems to be here to stay. A year ago, 15% of riders expected that in three months they would work from home at least one day a week, while also commuting to work at least one day a week. Today, that number’s risen to 24 percent.

4. Sub-par service and communication poses a threat to transit’s future

Unfortunately, 6% of respondents indicated that they were riding less because of reductions or changes to public transit service. But even among respondents who are riding as much as before the pandemic, problems with service are undermining confidence.

Nearly two-thirds of riders (64%) say they experienced disruptions to service in the past three months. By their nature, disruptions require fast, accurate and primarily digital forms of communication from agencies. But only 29% of these riders agreed or strongly agreed that they were well informed by their agency about these disruptions.

Want to dive deep in the stats?
Download the full report.
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