Passengers walk along light rail platform with bus in foreground.
VTA Recovers Nearly Half of Pre-Pandemic Weekday Ridership

Atmospheric rivers... Kids back in school… People taking public transit… Nature is healing.

Last month, VTA’s systemwide weekday ridership hit 47% of pre-pandemic levels – a marked increase over the 30% recovery rate this time last year. November also saw VTA’s Paratransit ridership recovery hit 64%.

Graph showing VTA transit ridership between 2019 and 2021
Graph of VTA transit ridership between 2019-2021.

More frequency is attracting more riders.

Frequent Bus lines are ahead of the pack, with nearly two-thirds of ridership back onboard. This is due in part to the October 11 schedule changes, which brought service levels up to 90% of pre-pandemic operations, fully restoring weekday hours and frequency on bus lines. These Frequent Bus routes carry the bulk of our system’s passengers.

Weekday bus ridership overall has risen to 52% of pre-pandemic levels. The rates of weekday ridership recovery broken down by service category are as follows:

  • Frequent: 59% of pre-COVID weekday ridership recovered
  • Local: 50% of pre-COVID weekday ridership recovered
  • Rapid: 49% of pre-COVID weekday ridership recovered
  • Light rail: 31% of pre-COVID weekday ridership recovered
  • Express: 25% of pre-COVID weekday ridership recovered
Map of some of VTA's Frequent Bus routes
Map of five Frequent Bus routes, where ridership is recovering the most.

As for where much of our returning ridership is coming from, Frequent Bus routes are welcoming riders back at above-average rates during the week:

  • Route 6066% (serves Milpitas BART, SJC airport, Santa Clara Transit Center)  
  • Route 25: 62% (Willow / Keyes / Story corridor in South/East SJ)
  • Route 2662% (Campbell to South/East SJ via Curtner, Tully)
  • Route 22: 61% (backbone of service on El Camino Real / Santa Clara / Alum Rock)
  • Route 23: 56% (backbone of service on De Anza Blvd / San Carlos St / Stevens Creek Blvd)

Who are these riders? Here’s what we know about the communities along these higher performing routes:

  • 70% are people of color
  • 32% live in households with one car
  • 23% are within 200% of the Federal poverty threshold
  • 12% are 65 or older
  • 8% are living with a disability
Graph of VTA bus and light rail ridership in 2021 through November
Graph of VTA's bus vs. light rail ridership in 2021.

Though lower in total riders, some weekday Local Bus routes are recovering even faster:

  • Route 44: 75% (Milpitas route serving BART, Great Mall)
  • Route 84: 73% (Gilroy route serving Caltrain, Gilroy Outlets, local healthcare facilities)
  • Route 27: 70% (serves Winchester light rail, Oakridge Mall, local healthcare facilities)

The rate of ridership recovery is increasing.

Typically, we see a dip in weekday ridership between October and November (likely due to holidays and colder weather). However, this year the numbers actually ticked up slightly in November, as bus ridership remained fairly steady and light rail increased by nearly 1,000 passengers (see graph above).

The accelerated recovery speaks to the effectiveness of investing in our core service, which was a cornerstone of the New Transit Service Plan that launched in December 2019.

This ridership return is both local and regional. Routes like the Rapid 500 between Berryessa BART and Downtown San Jose/Diridon, saw weekday ridership nearly double in September 2021, compared to June 2020 when BART service launched in North San Jose.

As exciting as it is to see ridership bounce back, we also acknowledge that some never stopped riding after COVID hit. As car-centric as parts of the South Bay can sometimes feel, the need for reliable, safe public transit has continued to ring true for those in our community who rely on transit. The trajectory of service restoration aims to improve our service for those who need it most.

In the meantime, we are continuing efforts to recruit new bus drivers so we can further restore service. Tell a friend – the #VTAFamily is hiring.


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