Americans’ desire to travel and go on vacation is undeniable, fueled by limited options during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. But all too often, decisions around how to get to a destination fall into an overly-simplistic binary: if it’s a short-distance, take the car, and if it’s a longer distance, fly. What if we took public transit instead?
With high gas prices and unreliable air travel, there’s never been a better time to embrace public transit for new types of trips. Public transit is an affordable, safe, and convenient way to explore new sights or travel regionally.
As the benefits of public transit for leisure become clear, we’re seeing increased demand for these kinds of trips across Keolis’ operations. By unlocking new destinations with public transit, we’ll promote tourism while allowing riders to ditch a personal vehicle – benefiting the planet in the process.
Especially as more workers stay home for remote or hybrid work, it’s important to remember that public transit is for everyone, not just commuters. Encouraging public transit for day trips to regional destinations is a way for transit agencies to expand their ridership base and maintain strong demand on weekends. The MBTA’s commuter rail $10 weekend rail tickets is an example of a win-win for both passengers and transit agencies looking to boost weekend ridership.
As Keolis CEO David Scorey said, “the MBTA’s reduced weekend fare initiative gives passengers a convenient and affordable option to visit a number of great destinations across the greater Boston area.” The MBTA’s initiative makes it easy to visit historic destinations like Salem or Providence or coastal beach towns like Newburyport or Manchester-by-the-Sea. Elsewhere, Keolis’ transit service opens doors to the museums of California’s San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys with Foothill Transit or North Virginia’s picturesque towns through Loudoun County Transit
Using public transit to make these sorts of trips has a real impact on the environment, too. Getting more people to ride public transit and not take personal cars is an environmental boon in and of itself, but we’re not stopping there and are committed to making journeys as clean as possible. In Reno, one third of RTC Washoe’s fleet consists of electric vehicles and RTC plans to eventually convert to an all-electric fleet. We’re also strengthening the connection between public transit and the environment with route designs that connect people with nature and outdoor adventures. By getting more people to ride and making our public transit cleaner when they do, we can maximize our positive impact on the environment.
Beyond day trips for sightseeing, public transit offers a way to get from city to city without having to drive yourself. Keolis’ Orléans Express offers luxury intercity coach service throughout Canada’s province of Québec, making it easy to get from Montreal to Québec City, Trois-Rivières, and other destinations. Or take the trip from New York to Chicago–it’s an arduous drive and parking is a challenge in both cities. A train allows for a more pleasurable time, complete with gorgeous scenery and a smooth ride.
The good news is that people are starting to see the benefits of taking public transit for a variety of purposes. Across Keolis’ U.S. contracts and modes (bus, paratransit and two commuter rail networks), ridership has increased steadily over the last year. While exact figures will vary based on mode or day of the week, these gains have been steadily climbing over the last 12 months and have even continued into the summer months, which typically see ridership slow down with many Americans taking summer vacations.
All signs point to continued ridership gains in the fall. These ridership gains are no doubt the result of a convergence of factors, including gas prices and the changing Covid-19 pandemic. But a key, if underappreciated, aspect of the return to public transit is the real desire to get back into the world and explore what it has to offer. If riders and public transit agencies seize this opportunity, we can expand access to destinations, boost local tourism, and reduce our climate impact–goals we can all get behind.