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Tulsa Transit Saw Sharp Drop In Ridership In Fiscal Year 2021, Even As Pandemic Briefly Waned

Tulsa Transit

Tulsa Transit is trying to sort out how much of a steep decline in ridership the past fiscal year is due to COVID-19.

According to a survey, 40% of bus riders said their travel needs changed during the pandemic, but 70% expected to be back to their normal routines in a year. That's not bearing out in monthly ridership numbers for FY21, all of which fell below projections and just once topped the same month a year before.

Overall ridership from July 2020 through June 2021 was less than two-thirds what it was the 12 months prior.

Tulsa Transit General Manager Ted Rieck said cities nationwide saw fewer people riding their buses because of the pandemic, but it's hard for him to say how much of the ongoing drop here is due to it.

"Some cities have seen a rebound. We have not yet, but one of our constraints is we're not operating at a full level of service, where other places are. So, that kind of hurts us, too," Rieck said.

Tulsa Transit ridership noticeably dipped in spring 2020 after Mayor G.T. Bynum issued a stay-at-home order, but numbers rebounded after buses went fare-free and a mask policy was put in place.

"And then as the virus kind of abated a bit, now we're having a driver shortage issue. We were kind of challenged with drivers anyway, but the recent economy resurge, everyone's got help wanted signs out, including for drivers. So, we're just being hit both ways on that. So, that's keeping our services down," Rieck said.

Rieck said services remain about 15% below normal operations.

The agency is looking at a potential pay raise to attract more drivers. Rieck said one recent applicant left during training because they found they could make more driving a garbage truck. 

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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