Matthew Palm,Jeff Allen, Yixue Zhang, Ignacio Tiznado-Aitken, Brice Batomen, Steven Farber &Michael Widener
Public transit agencies face a transformed landscape of rider demand and political support as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. We explore people’s motivations for returning to or avoiding public transit a year into the pandemic. We draw on a March 2021 follow-up survey of over 1,900 people who rode transit regularly prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and who took part in a prior survey on the topic in May 2020. We investigate how transit demand changes associated with the pandemic relate to changes in automobile ownership and its desirability. We find that pre-COVID frequent transit users between the ages of 18–29, a part of the so-called “Gen Z,” and recent immigrants are more attracted to driving due to the pandemic, with the latter group more likely to have actually purchased a vehicle. Getting COVID-19 or living with someone who did is also a strong and positive predictor of buying a car and anticipating less transit use after the pandemic. Our results suggest that COVID-19 may have increased the attractiveness of auto ownership among transit riders likely to eventually purchase cars anyway (immigrants, twentysomethings), at least in the North American context. We also conclude that getting COVID-19 or living with someone who did is a positive predictor of having bought a car. Future research should consider how having COVID-19 transformed some travelers’ views, values, and behaviour.