Nearly 75% of people currently riding Metrolink identified themselves as essential frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of a 2021 customer survey released Wednesday.
As California marks one year since stay-at-home orders were put in place, Metrolink has begun welcoming riders back to its service. And, with insights from the rider survey, the agency says it has a clearer understanding of the opportunity that lies ahead.
The 75% of the system’s riders who identified themselves as essential workers represent an increase of 4% from Metrolink’s April 2020 survey. Many (29%) of these essential workers are in the health care industry. Others include those in community-based organizations (17%), which includes public health and child care, and those in transportation and logistics (14%), according to the survey.
“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,” Metrolink Board chair and Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian said. “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 nature of Metrolink’s service is further indicated as one-third of current riders said they have no car, and about half (45%) report annual household incomes below $50,000 — as compared to just 23% in 2018, when 42% reported household incomes of $75,000 or more, the survey found.
In addition to recording increased usage by essential workers, the Metrolink survey revealed that 85% of lapsed riders are likely to return to Metrolink — an increase from 81% 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% want conditions they consider normal.
Metrolink ridership fell by 90 percent in April 2020 after stay-at-home orders were put into place. In recent weeks, Metrolink said it has seen a growth trend of riders returning to rail transit as restrictions have eased.
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,” said Metrolink CEO Stephanie Wiggins.
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 they say is smarter and better than ever thanks to the agency’s hard work over the last year. The campaign includes full-page ads in the area’s daily newspapers, as well as an online timeline detailing its customer-centered work over the last year to prepare for the return of more riders.
Improvements included the introduction last year of the 5-Day Flex Pass, a new option for workers who commute less frequently. It provides five discounted one-day passes that can be used within 30 days of purchase.
Metrolink also introduced the SoCal Explorer rewards program. The new EXPLORE digital content hub shares suggestions from employees of fun places to travel on Metrolink. And with the Kids Ride Free on Weekends fare, three kids age 17 and under travel for free with each paying adult — anywhere Metrolink travels on weekends. And adults pay just $10 all day.