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COVID: Longer Commute Times Could Be On The Horizon With Schools Reopening

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Bay Area commutes are still a lot quicker now then they were before the pandemic, but more lengthy travel times could return once kids are back in school.

On the 7:30 a.m. San Francisco-bound BART train from the Pleasant Hill BART station, most seats were filled, but not all. By West Oakland, a couple people were standing.

This is what the morning commute into the city looks like these days. Some regulars say they are seeing some more traffic.

BART train during pandemic
BART train during pandemic (CBS)

However, the numbers that transit agencies have tell a different story. BART ridership is still nearly 90% below its pre-pandemic levels.

Per virus safety protocols, BART considers its cars crowded when they reach 30 passengers. A check of the daily car passenger counts shows only a handful of cars reached into the high 20s. Simply put, BART has not even started to rebuild its ridership.

"No, they haven't," agreed John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "And the same is true for Caltrain. The same is true for the ferry operators. It is a different story on the highways. And there it's a really interesting story."

The highways did empty out in the depths of that first shelter-in-place order. The low point for regional freeway traffic was actually measured on April 6th. But not long after that, people started driving again. By July, highway traffic was 80% of where it had been pre pandemic.

"And there we have been, ever since the early part of July last summer," Goodwin says. "At the Bay Bridge, which is by far the busiest bridge in the region, it's about 85% of where it was."

So according to the numbers, the commute -- both on BART and on the highways -- has looked about the same since last summer.

The MTC surveyed the Bay Area to find out what would cause people to re-establish their more normal commuting habits, whether they be BART or car. The dominant answer was when students go back to in person learning.


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