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Transit Ridership, Vehicle Traffic Dropped Across Region After Pandemic Hit
 

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By Jorge Casuso

August 11, 2020 -- Public transit in Santa Monica saw a precipitous drop in ridership in the months following the coronavirus shutdown, mirroring a trend that also saw vehicle traffic nosedive across the congested region.

The findings were outlined in a report released Monday by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) that "analyzed roadway, rail and air traffic in the six-county region during the early months of the pandemic."

According to the report, Southern California saw vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) fall by nearly 80 percent between January and April, while transit ridership dropped by 85 percent in April over the previous year.

“This snapshot provides valuable insight into how external factors can significantly impact our region’s transportation habits," said Rex Richardson, SCAG’s president and a Long Beach City Councilmember.

"The information we gather over the next several months will provide an even clearer picture as we continue to plan for the future,” Richardson said.

In March -- when the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Los Angeles County -- ridership dropped by 29.5 percent, following modest gains of 6.6 percent in January and 9.4 percent in February, according to the report.

Ridership took a nosedive of 73 percent in both April and May as businesses shut down and stay-at-home orders were issued by state and local governments.

The Municipal Bus Lines in nearby Culver City saw similar drops of 41, 76 and 72 percent in March, April and May respectively, according to the report.

Rail service in the Metro Los Angeles area -- which includes the Expo Line that connects Downtown LA and Santa Monica -- dropped by 68 percent in April, compared to the same month last year.

It fared slightly better in May, dropping by about 63 percent for both bus and rail from the same month last year, the report said.

Air passenger demand in the region mirrored global and national trends in the months following the COVID-19 outbreak, dropping by almost 60 percent in March and 96 percent in April.

A breakdown for smaller municipal airports such as Santa Monica's was not included in the report.

The SCAG region encompasses Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties, a region ranked among the most congested in the country.

Research showed that the average Angeleno wasted more than 100 hours a year stuck in traffic, an unwelcome trend SCAG officials are bracing for when the economy fully reopens.

“We don’t know what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be, but the combination of fast-rising VMT and continued declines in transit ridership suggests that congestion and problems associated with it could return with a vengeance," said SCAG’s Executive Director Kome Ajise.

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