Pandemic Complicates Assessing Ridership Predictions
Photo by Ed Murray

Pandemic Complicates Assessing Ridership Predictions

Transit ridership has been slow to recover since a sharp decline at the start of the pandemic and ridership is expected to continue to be lower given the current trend of remote work, according to a new federal report.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed eight projects partially funded through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program: Central Florida SunRail Phase 2 South, Charlotte Blue Line Extension, Denver Eagle Commuter Rail, Fort Worth TEXRail, New York Second Avenue Subway Phase I, San Diego Mid-Coast Corridor Project, Seattle University Link Extension, and Silicon Valley Berryessa Bay Area Rapid Transit Extension.

Sponsors of two of the eight projects that completed a Before and After study—Charlotte and Seattle—reported capital costs were 14 percent and 9 percent lower than predicted “due to an unexpectedly favorable bid environment and untapped contingent funds.” Both sponsors reported actual ridership was about 30 percent lower than predicted due to “overly optimistic travel model assumptions.” Fort Worth Trinity Metro officials said they expected actual capital costs to be lower than predicted but the other five sponsors said it was premature to describe their capital costs.

Among all eight project sponsors, transit ridership declined precipitously at the start of the pandemic and in most cases, recovery has been slow. Sponsors expect ridership to continue to be lower given the current trend of remote work. The significant impact of the pandemic complicates assessments of the accuracy of their pre-pandemic ridership predictions.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) includes a provision for GAO to review FTA’s implementation of the CIG program every two years. The program helps cities, states, and other localities plan and build transit systems. FTA assesses the outcomes of these projects in periodic Predicted versus Actual reports.

The complete 51-page report is available here.