Pascale Sykes Foundation Transportation Grantees Get Essential Workers to Jobs During the Pandemic
This story was originally published here by Cross County Connection.
Public transportation has always provided an important service for South Jersey residents. Yet during the current pandemic, transit in our region has become even more critical. Findings from a survey of NJ TRANSIT customers show how these services have allowed many in the region to continue to travel to work and reach essential services. During 2020, NJ TRANSIT has conducted a series of travel surveys to assess to what extent the pandemic has impacted public transit usage. The surveys targeted customers traveling via NJ TRANSIT prior to the pandemic. The surveys gathered data on how customers were traveling during the pandemic and on their perceptions regarding social distancing, vehicle cleanliness, and usage of face coverings. Respondents included both those still using NJ TRANIST and those that have not been during the pandemic.
By addressing these topics, NJ TRANSIT analyzed how COVID-19 contributed to behavioral changes among commuters and other transit customers. Travel surveys were conducted in April, June, and December. Survey findings from the June survey were released in November and show how South Jersey transit users might differ from their neighbors to the north.
When compared to all NJ TRANSIT service modes in the two halves of the state, South Jersey buses had marginally higher levels of ridership retention during the pandemic compared to other NJ TRANSIT markets, as shown in the table below.
A reason behind South Jersey NJ TRANSIT buses’ marginally higher rate of retention could likely be that a high percentage of its ridership works at essential businesses. As seen in the table below, South Jersey bus riders represent the highest percentage of respondents that self-identified as an essential worker. From this data, one could infer that the 81% of South Jersey bus riders, self-identifying as essential, likely commute to jobs in sectors such as warehousing, food production, retail, and the healthcare industries. North Jersey buses and light rail also have high percentages of essential workers at 73 and 78 percent, respectively, but they may also have a portion of riders that commute to office and service-sector jobs in New York City, Newark, and the surrounding suburbs.
Essential jobs are more likely to be places where employees do not have the option of working from home. As seen below, apart from the Access Link paratransit service, South Jersey bus riders are the group of NJ TRANSIT users with the lowest percentage of people who reported working from home. This again indicates that a significant majority are employed at essential businesses and need a reliable means to get to work.
As shown in the final chart, South Jersey bus riders are slightly more likely than other NJ TRANSIT customers making work-trips to have a household income of less than $75,000. This held true not only in June 2020, but also in April 2020 and even before COVID-19’s onset. And further, 85% reported having limited or no access to a vehicle during the pandemic. This indicates that South Jersey’s public transit users may be marginally less likely be able to afford a vehicle of their own, and as a result, depend on public transportation as their only option to reach these essential jobs. For these essential workers, access to public transportation is imperative.
The importance of NJ TRANSIT bus service in South Jersey similarly underscores how local community shuttles serve a critical function during this challenging time. As transit-dependent South Jersey riders rely on NJ TRANSIT buses, they also depend on the region’s community shuttles. Cross County Connection partners with NJ TRANSIT, the South Jersey Transportation Authority, the counties of Atlantic and Gloucester, and others to provide shuttle services in parts of South Jersey that would otherwise be lacking public transit.
The Pureland East-West Community Shuttle, operating in Gloucester County, and the English Creek-Tilton Road and Route 54/40 Community Shuttles in Atlantic County, retained on average 33% more of their ridership during the stay-at-home orders last spring compared to the larger regional transit systems (NJ TRANSIT, PATCO, and SEPTA). On both of the Atlantic County shuttles, ridership rebounded quickly after a low point in April at the outset of the pandemic. Between April and October 2020, ridership on the Route 54/40 Community Shuttle increased 36%, and during the same timeframe, the English Creek-Tilton Road Community Shuttle’s ridership nearly doubled.
As reflected in this data, the rebound in the Atlantic County Community Shuttles’ ridership demonstrates how public transit is essential in enabling South Jersey workers get to their jobs.
Overall, the recent NJ TRANSIT survey findings emphasize the current importance of public transit to South Jersey. As the region continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, those decisionmakers who will guide the region’s economic recovery must understand that these vital services are part of the solution and collaboratively work to ensure their long-term viability.
SOURCE: COVID Travel Survey #2 (Conducted June 22 to July 3, 2020): Survey Findings. NJ TRANSIT Market Research. November 2020.