Despite California's 'reopening,' Bay Area transit suffers slow recovery

Three full months since the state formally reopened, movement around the Bay is still very much a slow, recovering work in progress. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) says in addition to the freeways, the Bay Area has 27 different transit agencies; all of which are in slow recovery. 

The MTC keeps an eagle eye on Bay Area transportation data in real time. 

"Very broadly speaking, we are now running at about 90% of pre-pandemic levels of traffic on the bridges," said MTC Information Officer John Goodwin. 

It took more than a year to come back with some bridges and roadways still in recovery. "We may measure this resettling of traffic patterns in years rather than months or weeks," said Goodwin.

But, since the state officially reopened on June 15, there have been no additional volumes traffic since. "People got back on the freeways first, now they're finding their way back on transit," said Goodwin.

That said, BART  was down more than 90% when the pandemic began, but is still off by 75%. "Our ridership is slowly starting to pick back up you know, both during the week and on the weekends our ridership is actually picking up quicker," said BART General Manager Bob Powers. SMART Train is still down by two-thirds. ACE Train, is still down by 80%.

Bus operators are beginning to see a pick-up in ridership since school re-openings have put many students on buses. "So, just within the last couple of weeks," said Goodwin.

The SF Bay Ferry fleet is still hobbled by half pre-pandemic ridership, Golden Gate is less than that. However, weekend passengers are coming back strong.

And, consider this, said Goodwin, "There's no question that the workplace itself has changed." Many employees are resisting going back to their offices out of fear that public transit raises their risk for COVID, flu and colds. 

"Yeah, I think it's COVID related first and foremost," said the BART GM. Studies also show that ride-share services are also luring passengers away from public transit as a safer alternative to transit and better than commuting in their own cars. "We are making a rational, reasonable recovery and the signs are encouraging indeed, but there's a long, long way to go," said Goodwin.

The MTC says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was responsible for providing major pandemic aid to transit systems.