Research Portal

April 30, 2024

Post-pandemic transit commute: Lessons from focus group discussions on the experience of essential workers during COVID-19

Ashour, L. A., Shen, Q., Moudon, A., Cai, M., Wang, Y., & Brown, M. (2024). Post-pandemic transit commute: Lessons from focus group discussions on the experience of essential workers during COVID-19. Journal of Transport Geography, 116.

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Public transit services, which provide a critical lifeline for many essential workers, were severely interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As institutions gradually return to normal in-person operations, it is critical to understand how the pandemic affected essential workers' commute and what it will take to ensure the effective recovery of transit ridership and enhance the long-term resiliency and equity of public transportation systems for those who need it the most. This study used focus group discussions with essential workers who were pre-pandemic transit riders to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their commute perceptions, experiences, motives, and challenges and explore the potential changes in their travel behavior post-pandemic. We used NVivo 12 Pro to conduct a thematic analysis of the transcripted discussion data and examined patterns of commute mode change with respect to participants' attributes, including job type, home location, and gender. The results show that public transit had multiple reliability and frequency challenges during the pandemic, which resulted in most participants switching away from public transportation. With the increased availability of hybrid remote work and pandemic-related parking policies, driving emerged as a safer and more affordable commute mode for many pre-pandemic transit riders, rendering transit services less efficient for those who continued to rely on it. Planning for post-COVID resilient and reliable mobility requires a major rethinking of providing an efficient and effective transport system and a more fundamental approach to long-term public transport policy. To recover transit ridership, transit agencies need to ensure transit service availability and provide reliable transit information through smartphone apps. Similarly, transit agencies need to coordinate with other employers to provide free or heavily subsidized transit passes, to facilitate the recovery of transit demand effectively.


Essential workers; Commute; Public transit; Focus group discussions; COVID-19 pandemic; Post-pandemic