COVID’s impact on transportation ridership uneven

Uber, Lyft rides decline less in lower-income communities

THE PANDEMIC depressed travel on most modes of transportation, but the impact has not been the same everywhere.

On the MBTA, ridership remains way down on the bus, subway, and commuter rail systems, but some routes and lines have done better than others. The number 16 bus, which serves Dorchester, is back to 87 percent of its pre-pandemic ridership, the highest level for any route in the system. The 111 and 116 buses, which serve Revere, Chelsea, and Everett, are back to more than 70 percent of their pre-COVID ridership. 

The Blue Line, which serves East Boston and Revere, has been the top-performing subway line since the pandemic began. And the Fairmount commuter rail line, which serves Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park, has retained more of its pre-COVID ridership (39 percent) than any other line. 

New data released this week on Uber and Lyft usage follows a similar pattern. Overall, the number of Uber and Lyft trips was down 62 percent statewide in 2020 compared to 2019, but usage varied quite dramatically depending on the community.

In many of the state’s poorer Gateway City communities, rideshare trips were down significantly less than in wealthier communities. Fall River usage was down 23 percent. Brockton was off 31 percent, New Bedford 33 percent, Lawrence 40 percent, and Lowell and Lynn 42 percent. In Worcester, Everett, Revere, Chelsea, Fitchburg, and Springfield, the number of Uber and Lyft trips was down between 50 and 55 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

By contrast, the decline in Uber and Lyft trips in 2020 exceeded the statewide average of 62 percent in many wealthier communities. Cambridge was down 71 percent; Belmont and Wellesley 68 percent; Somerville, Brookline, Lexington, and Concord down 67 percent; and Newton 66 percent. 

Alison Felix, a senior transportation planner and emerging technologies specialist at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said the income level of a community appears to have had a major impact on transportation usage during the pandemic.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

According to Felix, who commented after consulting with her colleagues, residents of higher-income communities tend to hold jobs that have allowed them to work from home during the pandemic, reducing their need for both transit and Uber and Lyft rides. 

Felix said many lower-income communities are home to essential workers who have to go to work and can’t remain at home. She said many of them have been wary of public transit during COVID, so she suspects they continued to use rideshare, which would explain why the number of Uber and Lyft trips in their communities has declined less than elsewhere.