How COVID has impacted transit – Metrolinx releases ridership map covering all GO Transit rail routes

The transit agency has published the first ridership map since the start of the pandemic. While the breakdown of stations and routes clearly show the impact of the health crisis on ridership, it also demonstrates the work that has never stopped to keep essential travellers moving throughout the threat. See how your route has fared.

The well-worn map on just about everything we regularly did changed dramatically last March.

That includes the impact on the routes every GO Transit and UP Express rail customer would usually take – or still do.

Metrolinx has – for the first time since the pandemic led to critical social and economic changes earlier this year – released a detailed statistical map that breaks down the numbers when it comes to the decline of ridership across the most populated regions in the country. It covers April to September of 2020.

Image shows the ridership map.

It comes as recent customer feedback, and a major survey of users, has found satisfaction in GO Transit, UP Express and PRESTO has returned to pre-COVID levels, boosted by more amenities as well as confidence in health and safety measures taken across the transit system.

The latest ridership map shows interesting trends – beyond obvious lower than normal ridership. All day service has led to customers using GO beyond the normal rush hours. In fact, 82 per cent of customers have used off-peak service through COVID-19.

The latest numbers show 61 per cent of ridership was off-peak, as workers reacted to the call to stagger their workday. That compares to 39 per cent, before the pandemic.

Metrolinx has also adjusted to needs in the system – adding 149 rail trips in September, to support the evolving needs of our riders.

The map was developed for an upcoming Metrolinx Board of Directors meeting happening on Nov. 26, that will also include updates on safety, operations, progress on Metrolinx capital projects and more.

The most obvious number is total ridership is holding steady at 11 per cent of the previous year’s ridership – including GO trains and buses, as well as UP Express. The map we’ve included looks at the changes since April, where ridership is 7.6 per cent of what it was in 2019, over the same period. That’s about 3.1 million riders.

Photo of GO Bus driver Ruslan Kubovych
Transit workers, including GO Bus driver Ruslan Kubovych, have kept customers moving to essential jobs and locations, even as the number of riders has dropped due to the pandemic. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

For just GO trains, the total number of boarding was 6.3 per cent of what it was during the same months in 2019.

Both Lakeshore East and West did – despite a substantial decline – the best when it came to the number of customers still using the system. Look to the small green percentage numbers by each station, to see how it compared to the same time last year.

What you don’t see reflected is how much of our ridership shifted to bus, as we used some of the quieter periods to get more construction done on some routes, like the Barrie line, and to make more efficient use of our resources.

But as well as a demonstration of the pause in movement that’s taken place for many customers, it’s also a bit of an historic chart of how much work continues to take place – toiling that has never stopped – to keep those who need to get to important jobs and locations, moving as they should.

A customer wears a mask.
GO customer Britney Kisamo wears a non-medical face mask, in this image, taken during warmer weeks. (Lorne Bridgman photo)

It’s also a nod to critical and substantial health and safety measures – part of Metrolinx’s mantra that ‘Safety Never Stops’. That includes everything from seat barriers on GO trains and buses to plenty of sanitizer dispensers to continual cleaning to making face coverings mandatory at all stations and on all vehicles.

Even beyond the enhanced health measures, as ridership has dropped, amenities and features have been added, including free Wi-Fi and an access to an entertainment portal, a partnership with Audible.ca and Fleets mobile coffee trucks at select stations.

But back to the story of the map, and capturing a historic year – by the numbers.

Before provincial health officials called for action to combat rising infection rates in certain areas, there was an increase in ridership numbers.

Ridership maps are always compelling snapshot of a certain period-in-time – look here for one we featured in February – and would normally be a reason to boast over increasing numbers of transit customers. But the latest stats are as much a still evolving history lesson.

In the future, it’ll be used as another example of how the landscape of everything was turned upside down in 2020.

If interested, you can find the broader board of director agenda by clicking here.