RSG survey helps Chicagoans plan their transit future after COVID-19

RSG recently completed an innovative region-wide survey of current and lapsed transit riders for the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) in Chicago. The findings will be used by RTA, its Service Boards (CTA, Metra, and Pace), and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to inform next steps.

The survey, which received 5,637 responses, collected data about travelers’ behavior, attitudes, and preferences. It defined a current rider as someone who (at the time of survey completion) used transit at least one day per week. A lapsed rider was defined as someone who (at the time of survey completion) used transit less than one day per week but had used it one day per week or more prior to March 2020. This was meant to capture riders who left transit at the start of the pandemic.

The survey report outlined eight major findings from the responses, which were collected in November 2020 (Wave 1) and January 2021 (Wave 2) to track how respondents’ sentiments changed over time:

  1. Many respondents had stopped using transit and had not returned as of January 2021.
  2. Current transit riders are disproportionately essential workers, non-White, or low income.
  3. A significant percentage of respondents now telework and expect to continue to do so, with telework concentrated among lapsed riders.
  4. Many respondents do hope to return to transit, but only 80% of lapsed riders expect to return fully to transit once COVID-19 concerns abate.
  5. A slight decrease in expectations of future teleworking was observed between November 2020 and January 2021 among nonessential employees in professional service industries.
  6. Many respondents simply stopped making transit trips instead of shifting these trips to different modes, and household vehicle use held relatively steady during the pandemic.
  7. Most current transit users are pleased with the health and safety measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.
  8. Transit users want to see improved transit speed, reliability, and connections across transportation services and geographies.

According to Leanne Redden, RTA Executive Director, the survey results will assist with planning and policies to attract riders back and help the agency emerge from the pandemic on stronger footing. “These are important insights we can use to help bring back lapsed riders who indicated they still have concerns about riding again that are based on pre-pandemic perceptions,” said Redden. “Our challenges are substantial, but we knew they would be. This report is full of information that we and our partners will use to plan for transit’s recovery over the long term.”

The RTA survey was developed based on RSG’s COVID-19 Transportation Insights Survey and was funded by the US Department of Transportation through a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Related Press

RTA survey: Most people who stopped commuting by transit during COVID plan to return” (Streetsblog, April 16, 2021)

Survey of Chicago region transit riders indicates potential challenges as pandemic eases” (Mass Transit, April 16, 2021)

CTA, Metra, Uber and Lyft say riders are coming back. But who needs a ride if you’re working from home?” (Chicago Tribune, April 15, 2021)

Transit Ridership Expected to Rebound, But Telecommuting Could Drive Big Shifts: RTA Report” (WTTW, April 15, 2021)

Ridership survey finds challenges for Chicago region after COVID” (Progressive Railroading, April 15, 2021)

How COVID will permanently change transit ridership in Chicago” (Crain’s Chicago Business, April 15, 2021)

Click here to read the RTA COVID-19 Lapsed Rider Survey report »