PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Drops in public transportation usage were seen across the country during the pandemic. While other types of transportation rebounded quickly, public transit has been slow to do the same.

“In terms of transit ridership across our region, we’re still down about 40% in our region compared to where we were pre-pandemic,” explained Keith Nichols with the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO.)

Keith Nichols is the man with the math at HRTPO. He says local ridership hasn’t recovered even half of the riders they used to have pre-pandemic.

“What we’re seeing in Hampton Roads is very similar to most large cities or small cities,” said Nichols. “They’re kind of all seeing the same thing in terms of transit ridership not rebounding to the levels we were seeing pre-pandemic.”

10 On Your Side caught up with Hampton Roads Transit to find out if they think the riders will ever come back.

We will see people return to transit because there are a number of our customers who have no other option than transit,” said Alexis Majid. “We know they’ll return to transit as soon as it makes sense for them and so what we’re trying to do in the interim is to just try to make sure that we continue to run a high quality service.”

That high quality service comes at a cost.

With the decrease in ridership, 10 On Your Side wanted to know if cities are still spending the same amount on public transportation.

HRT says yes.

We’ve tried to maintain the cities’ portion throughout the pandemic because we knew that ridership would return,” said Majid. “We didn’t want to put the cities in a situation to where we couldn’t find the service as we started to bring service back to our pre-pandemic levels.”

According to the Transportation Service Plan for FY22, Chesapeake spends the least on transit, at just below $3 million. Norfolk spends significantly more — $20 million.

City Spending per Transportation Service Plan FY22

  • Chesapeake $2,821,863
  • Hampton $4,887,823
  • Newport News $7,747,362
  • Norfolk $20,133,699
  • Portsmouth $2,970,726
  • Virginia Beach $8,134,630

Continued spending hopefully encourages ridership numbers, but HRT says their services aren’t nearly as extensive as they’d like them to be. That’s because of one, large shortage.

We had to reduce the level of riding because we lost so many bus operators during the pandemic and so as we’re rebuilding the workforce we’re starting to add additional service back,” explained Majid. “Because of that, there’s less service.”

She explained that as HRT brings service back to pre-pandemic levels, the customers will return, but they need operators.

Really that’s the core of what we need; we can’t roll out additional bus services without drivers,” she explained. ”Customers are always asking can we get the bus to come to our stop more frequently and we’re working on that; we’re just looking to get the operators for us.”

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