In March 2020, as states and localities ordered shutdowns of non-essential businesses, workers were laid off or started to work remotely from home. As a result, transit ridership plummeted, revenues took a dive, and transit managers scrambled to save money by cutting services.
One year on, rail transportation has begun to recover in some places but according to Railway Age, “transit’s recovery over the past year has been mode-specific.” As we continue to live with the COVID-19 virus and many continue to work from home, local light rail transit has recovered far better than commuter railroads. For the most part, local lines are running and taking riders where they want to go, although they may be running trains less frequently and ending service earlier than in the past.
David Peter Alan, Contributing Editor at Railway Age also notes that, “The impact of the virus on transit has turned the traditional California rivalry between the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas on its head, at least as far as transit is concerned.”
Transit in the San Francisco Bay area was hit hard last year, and struggles to recover. The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (Muni) once had one of the strongest rail transit networks in the nation, but not now. There was no rail transit in the city for most of the past year, although two light rail lines have since returned with shortened routes and shortened service schedules. Buses continue to fill in for the other four lines where light rail used to run. The city’s unique cable cars and historic streetcars remain suspended as well. Muni continues to encourage travelers to find other means for non-essential trips.
Southern California is doing better, with Los Angeles Metro being one of the success stories. In April 2020, Metro created a Recovery Task Force to respond to the “unprecedented challenges” of the pandemic. The Task Force recommended actions to help the agency recover from “the seismic impact of lost revenues,” and to chart a course for equitable economic recovery for LA County. A year later, Metro is managing to run its rail lines close to pre-COVID schedules, with service available until midnight on most lines. Only the late night weekend service is gone. The Task Force continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on transportation and mobility in LA County to ensure that its recommendations are supported by data.
“San Francisco kept some of its rail transit while, until about 30 years ago, Los Angeles had none. In those three decades, the City of Angels has built several subway and light rail lines and the Metrolink commuter train system. The construction is continuing, with several projects in progress. Local transit on Metro has shown its strength, while the San Francisco Bay area has been hit so hard that only two light rail lines are running in the city. The other four are suspended, along with the historic streetcars and world-famous cable cars,” explained Lane. “It seems inconceivable even to contemplate that, as recently as one year ago, Los Angeles could beat San Francisco in a transit competition. That is one of the stranger manifestations that the virus has brought,” he reflected.
Source: Railway Age