Feb 16, 2022 - News

SEPTA says ridership has rebounded from dip during Omicron wave

A commuter boards a SEPTA bus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo:  Hannah Beier/Bloomberg via Getty Image
A commuter boards a SEPTA bus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Hannah Beier/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ridership on SEPTA's buses, subways and trolleys is just half of what it was in 2019.

  • Yes, but: It has rebounded from a dip during the Omicron wave to what the transit agency says are some of the highest numbers recorded since the pandemic began.

State of play: SEPTA officials blame the rise of remote work and lingering COVID-19 fears for low ridership in 2022.

  • The agency is also still struggling with a driver shortage and is in search of 200 operators.
  • "We don't know if it's possible to get to pre-COVID levels," SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch told Axios.

By the numbers: In 2019, the city's public transportation agency had about 900,000 one-way passenger trips on buses and subways, every weekday.

  • That figure is now around 450,000 passengers per day.

Flashback: SEPTA took the biggest hit in the early days of the pandemic, with traffic plummeting by 90% between March and April 2020.

  • For months, SEPTA lost $1 million every day thanks to the lack of revenue from ticket sales.
  • Come June 2021, ridership grew to 40% of pre-pandemic levels, after the agency rolled back its COVID capacity limits and people started to get vaccinated against the virus.
  • Ridership continued to see modest increases, but it dipped to 40% again this January, during the height of the Omicron surge.

Between the lines: Although the pandemic accelerated SEPTA's issues, ridership had already been on the decline.

What they're saying: Busch said the agency continues to operate largely because of the $1.5 billion in federal help. It's expected to last until 2024.

  • The agency also increased cleaning operations and expanded its police force to quell safety concerns, but it hasn't done much for enticing passengers back.

The bottom line: Ridership levels aren't expected to return to normal anytime soon.

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