British Columbia

TransLink reached record boardings in 2019 before ridership plunged during pandemic, data shows

Data released by TransLink shows 2019 was a record-breaking year for transit ridership — but the decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be hard to predict.

TransLink forecasts 50-60% of passengers will return by fall, but admits COVID-19 impact is hard to predict

Ridership numbers across the TransLink network plunged earlier this year as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated and commuters began working from home. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Data released by TransLink shows 2019 was a record-breaking year for transit ridership in Metro Vancouver — but future passenger levels across the network are difficult to predict as the authority struggles to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The transit authority recorded 452.9 million boardings last year, while ridership grew 3.6 per cent system-wide. 

The busiest month of 2019 was October, with 41.2 million boardings, and the busiest day was Sept. 27, the day of a huge climate protest in Vancouver, with 1.63 million boardings.

The busiest overall route was the 99 B-Line bus running between Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station and the University of British Columbia.

According to TransLink, the increase in boardings by transit type were:

  • Bus: 3.8 per cent
  • SeaBus: 1.2 per cent
  • SkyTrain: 3.2 per cent
  • West Coast Express: 4.9 per cent
  • HandyDART: 5.7 per cent.

The fastest growing ridership at SkyTrain and Canada Line stations was at Templeton and Sea Island Centre in Richmond, and Moody Centre in Port Moody.

Ridership numbers from last year also show rapid growth along transportation corridors in Langley and Surrey.

But numbers across the transit network plunged earlier this year as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated and commuters began working from home.

TransLink is predicting that ridership in the fall could be at 50 to 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Geoff Cross, the authority's vice-president of transportation planning and policy, said the long-term impact of the pandemic is difficult to forecast.

"People will decide [which] patterns work for them, [which] are productive. The other piece will be how severe are the recessionary impacts on employment levels," he said.

Earlier in July, Premier John Horgan said revenues for TransLink and B.C. Transit have "fallen off a cliff" during the pandemic.

Under an agreement with the federal government, Horgan said the province will match every dollar the federal government spends on transit and he estimates B.C. will need about $600 million to get transit budgets back on track for this year alone.

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