In 2022, public transit use in Metro Vancouver nearly as much as pre-pandemic levels, TransLink data shows
Ridership numbers on public transport in Metro Vancouver increased to almost 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels near the end of 2022, data shows.
Statistics from TransLink, the region's transit authority, show that 193.6 million trips were made across the system last year, a 48 per cent increase over 2021.
The increase came as most public health measures restricting transit were dropped at the start of 2022. Ridership across the country went down sharply in the two years prior, amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dan Mountain, a spokesperson for the authority, said TransLink was seeing riders return at rates higher than most other transit authorities in North America.
"We had the fifth-most boardings of any metropolitan area throughout all of Canada and the U.S., despite having the 24th-largest population," he told CBC News. "We're leading so many different major transit agencies throughout North America, because I think transit is so integral to Metro Vancouver's way of life."
The data, from TransLink's annual service performance review, shows much of the ridership recovery was driven by the southeast and eastern sections of Metro Vancouver — which includes Surrey, Langley, White Rock, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
Mountain says some parts of the region have seen ridership levels exceed pre-pandemic levels.
"Every quarter we modify our bus services to match where demand is going," he said. "We're [providing] 12 per cent higher bus service in Surrey and the surrounding areas since we were in pre-pandemic levels."
Ridership change on top 5 bus routes in Metro Vancouver
Overcrowding a concern
With the ridership rebound, overcrowding has again become a concern for many transit users, as viruses like COVID-19 are airborne and spread in confined areas.
TransLink data shows that over six per cent of buses in fall 2022 were overcrowded — defined as when the number of passengers exceeds the target capacity, and all seats are full for at least part of the trip.
Mountain acknowledged the issue is likely to become pronounced as more people return to taking transit, and said TransLink adding more RapidBuses to major routes was one way to alleviate the issue of crowding.
The RapidBuses — fast bus lines along major corridors introduced at the start of 2020 — have proven to be popular among transit riders. Three of the rapid transit routes were among the top 10 busiest routes in 2022.
"RapidBus services are becoming the backbone of the transit system," reads the review. "Most RapidBus routes are among the highest ridership routes in the sub-regions they serve."
Mountain said that the authority was planning to bring in bus rapid transit over the next 10 years, which would carry more passengers over the regular articulated buses, in addition to more bus routes based on demand.
A simultaneous review of the HandyDART service — which provides door-to-door transportation for disabled people and those who need mobility aids — showed ridership has increased to around 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
"We will continue to invest in our system so residents have a world class, reliable and affordable public transit network they can depend on every single day," said TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn in a statement.