WA public transport patronage bounces back after record low coronavirus hit


Commuters in Perth are slowly starting to make their way back to public transport after COVID-19, but figures show patronage is still a fraction of what it was before the pandemic.

New numbers from the Public Transport Authority saw trips across buses, ferries and trains jump to about 4.4 million during May, up from 1.9 million in April.

But while people turn to their cars, bikes or continue working from home, it is a long way from the 13.5 million trips made in May last year.

For Acacia Armstrong, COVID-19 was the push she needed to hop on her bike — and she said it was likely to permanently change the way she travelled.

Pandemic prompts bike purchase

A keen public transport rider, Ms Armstrong said her family had been encouraging her to get an electric bike for some time.

The approaching pandemic sealed the decision for the young nanny.

“I work with kids, and I really wanted to keep my job and keep it safe, so in that uncertain time with the different hygiene things, we figured it would be just better to be on a bike,” she said.

Ms Armstrong said she was saving about $70 a week in public transport costs.

Ms Armstrong said the pandemic had changed the way she commuted around the city.(ABC News: Jessica Warriner)

“I will mainly keep riding my bike, I love doing it, it’s heaps of fun,” she said.

“I do still like public transport, but I catch it when it suits me better.”

‘Transitioning back to reality’, Minister says

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said there were a number of factors affecting the lower public transport ridership in the wake of COVID-19, including more people working from home and choosing alternative ways to get around.

“We always knew there was going to be a bit of a lag,” she said.

“We’ve seen our roads get very, very busy, we’ve seen cycling increase by 20 per cent.”

“I think also there’s been some mixed messages — in New South Wales and Victoria they’re telling people not to catch public transport, because of issues of community spread over there.”

Ms Saffioti said the State Government would be monitoring the ridership situation, but had no concerns about any impact on upcoming Metronet projects, expecting figures to return to normal by the time the first project — the Forrestfield airport link — opens towards the end of next year.

“The reality is we’ve moved very quickly back to phase three of recovery, and I think we’ve moved a lot faster than anyone had expected,” she said.

A head and shoulder shot of a smiling Rita Saffioti
WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said she was expecting a lag before numbers returned to normal.(ABC News: James Carmody)

“Public transport has been one of those ones that will lag, but we expect it to get back to normality at some time.”

PTA confident numbers will grow

Public Transport Authority spokesman David Hynes said while the May boarding figures were not good, they still indicated a strong comeback from the worst of COVID-19 ridership in April.

A man wearing an open-neck white shirt and grey blazer stands on a train platform.
Public Transport Authority spokesman David Hynes was confident numbers would get to back to pre-pandemic levels.(ABC News: Jessica Warriner)

“Though we are far from out of the woods, we definitely seem to be on the right path and past the worst of it,” he said.

Mr Hynes said the hit to ridership would likely see end-of-financial-year boarding figures around the lowest they had been since 2007–08, before the introduction of the Mandurah rail line.

Trip numbers grew significantly after the line was introduced, peaking close to 150 million during the boom years in 2012–13.

Mr Hynes was confident the post-COVID numbers would continue to grow, especially with the return of university students.

“We’ll get back to where we were, I’m sure, and we’ll get back to the 150 million in time,” he said.

“The question is how long it will take.”



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