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Transit ridership is still well below pre-pandemic levels. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

A return-to-normal gauge to watch is mass transit ridership, which continues to creep higher in parts of the country as people get vaccinated and emerge from lockdown.

Why it matters: Ridership return is key for the big city systems — think San Francisco or New York — that are more reliant on fares for revenue.

  • Other transit systems rely primarily on a variety of funding sources, like sales tax (which also took a pandemic hit).

Flashback: City and state financials aren't as dire as expected initially when the pandemic first hit, thanks to government stimulus and the nature of the recovery, says Cooper Howard, a municipal strategist at Charles Schwab.

  • "The better the fiscal situation for the state or city, the more flexibility they have to provide support to that transit agency," Howard says.

Worth noting: Car trips in New York City are much closer to pre-pandemic levels, according to MTA bridge and tunnel figures.

  • Bus ridership in NYC has also recovered faster than the subway.

What to watch: If riders don't return — or do so with less frequency — thanks to holdover pandemic habits. (Though some essential workers have relied on public transit all along.)

  • More work from home or permanent relocation to suburban areas could cause a small but permanent drop in transit ridership, per a recent Moody's report on systems in New York, France, London and British Columbia.
  • But forever drop-offs in those areas could be mitigated by "new transit users from population and business growth as well as new infrastructure capacity."

Go deeper

CDC says fully vaccinated people don't have to wear masks indoors

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Erin Clark-Pool/Getty Images

The CDC announced in new guidance Thursday that anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, regardless of crowd size.

What they're saying: "If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected, and you can start doing the things that you stopped doing because of the pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will say at a White House press briefing.

Colonial Pipeline reportedly paid hackers nearly $5 million in ransom

Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

Colonial Pipeline paid hackers linked to the DarkSide cybercrime group nearly $5 million in cryptocurrency after last week's ransomware attack, Bloomberg first reported and the New York Times confirmed.

Why it matters: The breach of the largest refined fuels pipeline in the U.S. triggered new concerns about the vulnerability of the country's increasingly digitized energy systems.

Biden warns gas stations not to price gouge: "That's not who we are"

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday warned gas companies to not price gouge amid major shortages following the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.

The big picture: Biden added that the FBI does not believe the Russian government is behind the attack, but they do know that those responsible "are living in Russia."