LOS ANGELES – Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Metrolink has provided safe, reliable service to essential frontline workers who kept the Southern California region safe and functioning, according to the results of a2021 Customer Surveyreleased today. As California marks one year since stay-at-home orders were put in place, Metrolink has begun the work of welcoming back riders to its service. And, with insights from the rider survey, the agency has a clearer understanding of the opportunity that lies ahead.
Nearly 75 percent of people currently riding Metrolink identified themselves as essential workers – an increase of 4 percent from Metrolink’s April 2020 survey. Many (29 percent) of these essential workers are in the healthcare industry. Other essential workers include those in community-based organizations (17 percent), which includes public health and childcare, and those in transportation and logistics (14 percent).
“The results of our customer survey show just how essential our service is to Southern Californians as a link to employment, housing and educational opportunities that will help get our region back on track,” said Metrolink Board Chair and Glendale councilmember Ara Najarian. “Our clean, efficient and economical service is a better option to commuting in a vehicle and is vital to rebuilding our local economies while reducing traffic and air pollution.”
The essential nature of Metrolink’s service is further indicated as one-third of current riders said they have no car, and about half (45 percent) report household incomes below $50,000 – as compared to just 23 percent in 2018, when 42 percent reported household incomes of $75,000 or more.
In addition to recording increased usage by essential workers, the Metrolink survey revealed that 85 percent of lapsed riders are likely to return to Metrolink – an increase from 81 percent from the 2020 survey. Thirty-two percent of people surveyed said they are waiting for vaccines to become readily available, which is now on the immediate horizon, before resuming their commute. Twenty-four percent expect to return later this year and 23 percent want conditions they consider normal.
Metrolink’s 2021 COVID-19 Customer Survey was distributed via email to 312,929 Metrolink customers. The survey, which received 10,449 valid responses, was designed to identify riders’ evolving needs, including their health and safety concerns, and is a follow-up to a similar survey fielded at the start of the pandemic in April 2020.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Metrolink remained an indispensable service for essential workers who kept our region functioning safely during a time of instability. We are proud to have been #EssentialTogether,” said Metrolink CEO Stephanie Wiggins.
A Smarter, Better Service to Welcome Back Riders
In releasing its survey results, Metrolink also launched a campaign to thank the region’s essential workers and to invite its lapsed riders – and the community at large – back to a service that is smarter and better than ever thanks to the agency’s hard work over the last year. The campaign includesfull-page ads in the region’s daily newspapers to thank the region’s essential workers, as well as an online timelinedetailing its customer-centered work over the last year to prepare for the return of more riders.
“We worked tirelessly over the last year to make our trains cleaner and safer than ever; we honored our commitment to the environment, lowering our emissions to keep Southern California on track for a better future; we supported the most essential among us with new flexible ticketing and express schedules. We did it because essential means being there when you are needed most,” Wiggins continued.
Improvements included the introduction last year of the5-Day Flex Pass, a new option for workers who commute less frequently. The 5-Day Flex Pass provides five discounted one-day passes that can be used within 30 days of purchase. Metrolink also introduced the SoCal Explorer rewards program to make Metrolink a more affordable lifestyle choice for those who enjoy taking the train for work, as well as to visit friends and family, daycations, and more. The new EXPLORE digital content hub shares suggestions from employees of fun places to travel on Metrolink, providing riders the inspiration they need to make Metrolink a part of their lives. And with the Kids Ride Free on Weekendsfare, three kids ages 17 and under travel for free with each paying adult – anywhere Metrolink travels on weekends. (And adults pay just $10 all day.)
Critical Safety Measures Earn High Marks
Survey results showed thatsafetyis highly valued by respondents. As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, Metrolink introduced hospital-grade disinfecting, more frequent cleaning of train interiors throughout the day and doubling hand sanitizing stations on each rail car. Metrolink also installed new antimicrobial air filters that reduce contaminants by 99.9 percent, required face masks to be worn at all stations and onboard trains and developed a web tool “How Full is My Train?” that enables to riders check recent train ridership to ensure there’s space for physical distancing.
Customers gave Metrolink high marks for health and safety efforts put in place since the beginning of the pandemic with 85 percent of current riders rating Metrolink’s cleaning and safety efforts “excellent” or “good” (on a 5-point scale).
Ridership Growth Potential Beyond Traditional Commuters
The Metrolink customer survey indicated opportunities to attract ridership beyond traditional work commuters, some of which will likely continue to telecommute at least part time. While half of survey respondents rely on Metrolink for commuting to their jobs, compared to 74 percent in 2018, visiting family and friends accounts for 25 percent of all trips, followed by personal business – 10 percent, and leisure travel – 8 percent. Plus, people choose Metrolink instead of driving a vehicle for a variety of reasons: Relaxing ride – 27 percent; more economical than driving – 18 percent; allows for other activities while riding – 16 percent; and it is faster than driving – 15 percent.
“The survey confirms our observations that non-peak and weekend ridership is growing, showing a demand for Metrolink service beyond the traditional workday commute,” said Metrolink Vice Chair and Highland Mayor Pro Tem Larry McCallon. “Southern Californians were numb to traffic congestion. Now, after spending a year at home, people place greater value on their leisure time, and we expect have less tolerance of being stuck in traffic.”
Metrolink ridership fell by 90 percent in April 2020 after stay-at-home orders were put into place. In recent weeks, Metrolink has seen a growth trend of riders returning to rail transit as restrictions have eased.