Metro's logo in Union Station.
Metrorail and Metrobus riders say frequent cleaning, social distancing in trains and buses, and frequent service are among the top issues that would prompt them to return to riding public transit as the pandemic wanes.
About 55% of riders surveyed said more frequent cleaning of buses or trains would make them more likely to take transit. About half said more space between people would help, and about 45% of riders said more frequent service would make them more likely to ride.
A pair of surveys — one from Metro conducted in April, and another from the region's Transportation Planning Board conducted in February — are helping drive Metro's service planning going forward. The board heard the survey results during their meeting on Thursday.
The results come as Metro's board is discussing reducing fares to woo riders back to the system as the region starts returning to normal.
For Metrorail customers, price was not among the top barriers for return. Metro officials say cost was actually in the bottom three barriers as many that ride earn over $100,000 and many receive travel subsidies from work.
The transit agency is facing an uncertain future as businesses are trying to determine how much telework will play into office work of the future. A vast majority of people, about 3 in 4, say they would feel safe riding Metro when they are vaccinated. But 9 in 10 say they want to work from home at least one day a week.
With fewer commuter trips, Metro officials are figuring out how much more peak commuter service will be needed versus spreading out more trains and buses throughout the day.
"That's a significant change in Metro's model," said Tom Webster, the agency's head of planning. "Particularly with Metrorail, we've been focused on the peak of the peak of the peak of service. So it's going to take some of some work and some planning and, of course, some service development to get there."
Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox said riders want to see just more service overall.
"To be clear, [riders] do not want to see the peak frequencies decrease, they want to see the off-peak frequencies increase," she said.
Still, Metro says it only expects to get to about 42% of its pre-pandemic ridership by the end of 2021 as telework, especially by federal agencies, is expected to continue in some form.
"Overall regional trip volumes and patterns are uncertain and challenging to predict," officials wrote in a memo to the board. "Factors include the potential for more work and non-work trips taken at other times, an expected robust economic recovery, and continued growth in population and activities near transit."
Metro is estimating that about 70% of Metrorail commuters will take four fewer trips per week on average.
Metro says its goal is to provide service ahead of demand and that it takes about three or more months to ramp up service and to get schedules updated, workers on shifts, and new maps printed, among other needs.
So far, Metrorail ridership is still drastically lower than the 650,000 average weekday rides pre-pandemic — it currently hovers about 100,000 rides a weekday. Metrobus has been busier since it often serves lower-income communities and essential workers. Nearly 3 in 5 bus riders are on the system today. Metro is adding more bus service, including running service until 2 a.m., in June. More changes are expected in September.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.