Cities with the Greatest Resurgence in Transit Use

Cities with the Greatest Resurgence in Transit Use

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A man and a woman ride the metro with masks on.

Which U.S. cities have been the quickest to return to public transportation during the pandemic?

When the pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, leading to the enforcement of shelter-in-place quarantine orders, Americans experienced great fluctuations in their access to modes of transportation. Many local public transportation systems including bus routes and commuter rails were suspended, operating at limited capacity, or advised for use only when absolutely necessary by transit agencies due to the CDC’s social distancing recommendations. In cities like New York, where the subway system is an integral component of residents’ daily lives, mass transit may be seen as a great equalizer — take the subway at the busiest peak hours in Manhattan, and you’ll see a diverse ridership of commuters. However, limitations in the usage of public transit systems brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have quickly illuminated the economic disparity between city residents.

Many affluent residents with the privilege to flee the city to second homes have done so. Additionally, car sales have skyrocketed as those who can afford to purchase cars attempt to avoid mass transit systems. On the other hand, those who are not able to afford to leave the city, buy a car, or work a remote job are still dependent on train lines and bus services as their primary form of mobility, even as it leaves them more susceptible to COVID-19.

As the pandemic has progressed throughout the year, cities across the U.S. have been in fluctuating stages of re-opening and shutting down. In some ways, society is yearning to get “back to normal” even though the pandemic is nowhere near over. Part of getting back to normal for many cities is resuming rapid transportation use. Curious to understand the return to public transit across the United States, the data science team at Insurify examined the data to identify the cities with the largest rebound in mass transportation over the course of the pandemic.

Icon map of cities in the U.S. with the greatest increase in public transit use from March-August 2020.

Insights

  • National averages. Across the 93 cities analyzed in this study, transit use has increased by 83 percent between the start of lockdown and August 2020. The average number of commuters who use public transit across all recorded U.S. metropolitan areas is 8,041.86 passengers per metro area. From the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent report on infrastructure spending, the U.S. federal, state, and local governments spent a total of $441 billion on transportation in 2017.
  • An absence of southern cities. Among the cities with the largest resurgence in public transportation during the pandemic, only one is in the South. This may be partially attributable to the fact that southern states were some of the most resistant to total lockdown during the onset of the coronavirus and have been the fastest to reopen. Daily habits may not have changed much between March and August if mass transit was never abandoned at the same rate in these states. Additionally, driving is a more prevalent form of transportation in southern states, where communities tend to be more spread out geographically.
  • Affording mobility. The cities on this list may be representative of mobility inequity. Cities in which residents are quickly returning to use public transportation likely have strong, centralized, and relatively high-functioning transit infrastructure, which is why more residents opt to use public transportation. As cities reopen slowly throughout the pandemic, people are eager to get back to their pre-pandemic lifestyles. However, in the case of COVID-19, those with the privilege to avoid public transportation and drive (or work from home) instead will opt to do so. Those using public transit throughout the pandemic are more likely to be frontline essential workers (and transit workers themselves), which may contribute to the increased risk of COVID-19 spread and mortality rates among low-income populations. These cities may have greater economic inequality that necessitates the use of public transit by many residents — even as it poses a health risk — because their livelihoods depend on it.

Methodology

The data science and research team at Insurify, a car insurance quotes comparison website, identified which cities have returned to public transportation at the quickest rates based on public transit data across 93 U.S. cities. Mobility data was provided by Apple Maps, which compares the daily volume of directions requests per city to a baseline volume on January 13, 2020. Data sent from users’ devices to Apple Maps services is anonymized.

Insurify’s research team calculated the percent change in the volume of transit queries between March 30th, the date when California was the first state to announce a state-wide lockdown, and August 14th. City transportation budgets were derived from each cities’ expenditure reports for the most recent fiscal year as disclosed on their municipal websites. The most recently available data was variable between cities, so Insurify’s research team consistently looked at whichever available date was the most recent — the least recent being FY2018, and the most recent from the adopted FY2020 budgets. The number of public transit commuters per city was extracted from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 Community Survey, which recorded the breakdown of commute type within metropolitan areas across the United States.

Cities with the Greatest Resurgence in Transit Use

20. Dublin, CA

  • Percent increase in transit use: 114%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $1.02 million
  • Number of public transit commuters*: 399,295

19. Portland, OR

  • Percent increase in transit use: 118%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $570.86 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 77,938

18. New Orleans, LA

  • Percent increase in transit use: 120%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $109.00 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 16,078

17. Springfield, MA

  • Percent increase in transit use: 121%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $51.38 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 6,479

16. Eugene, OR

  • Percent increase in transit use: 123%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $21.30 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 5,156

15. Denver, CO

  • Percent increase in transit use: 126%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $1.49 billion
  • Number of public transit commuters: 63,723

14. Seattle, WA

  • Percent increase in transit use: 130%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $477.87 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 191,449

13. Chicago, IL

  • Percent increase in transit use: 130%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $1.57 billion
  • Number of public transit commuters: 560,281

12. Providence, RI

  • Percent increase in transit use: 133%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $632.37 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 20,464

11. Albany, NY

  • Percent increase in transit use: 134%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $90.18 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 15,965

10. Pittsburgh, PA

  • Percent increase in transit use: 136%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $462.60 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 63,918

9. Toledo, OH

  • Percent increase in transit use: 139%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $865.00 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 3,499

8. Colorado Springs, CO

  • Percent increase in transit use: 153%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $40.02 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 2,560

7. Grand Rapids, MI

  • Percent increase in transit use: 158%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $7.59 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 7,729

6. New Haven, CT

  • Percent increase in transit use: 164%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $3.29 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 17,343

5. Boston, MA

  • Percent increase in transit use: 164%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $2.12 billion
  • Number of public transit commuters: 336,692

4. Annapolis, MD

  • Percent increase in transit use: 197%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $5.63 million
  • Number of public transit commuters*: 88,452

3. New York City, NY

  • Percent increase in transit use: 261%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $16.73 billion
  • Number of public transit commuters*: 2,965,491

2. Hartford, CT

  • Percent increase in transit use: 262%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $2.60 billion
  • Number of public transit commuters: 16,772

1. Lansing, MI

  • Percent increase in transit use: 272%
  • City expenditure on transportation: $50.99 million
  • Number of public transit commuters: 5,777

 

*These figures represent the total number of commuters within the wider metropolitan areas, respectively:

  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Metro Area
  • Annapolis-Baltimore-Columbia-Towson Metro Area
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA Metro Area

 

If you have questions or comments about this article, please contact insights@insurify.com.

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