Edmonton bus ridership returns to pre-pandemic levels

Feb. 13, 2023
The city credits fare system upgrades, its bus system redesign, maintaining full service and pursuing additional enhancements as contributing to the steady growth in ridership.

Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) reports bus ridership averaged approximately 1.2 million riders per week during January 2023, making the system on of the first large transit systems to achieve ridership that matches pre-pandemic levels.

Edmonton bus ridership reached 100 percent of 2019 pre-pandemic levels in January, making Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) one of the first large transit systems to reach this milestone. Throughout the first month of 2023, ridership averaged approximately 1.2 million rides per week.

ETS Branch Manager Carrie Hotton-MacDonald recognizes there may be fluctuations in the upcoming months but calls the figures encouraging.

For perspective, ETS bus ridership averaged about 350,000 rides per week, roughly 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. In January 2022, ridership was approximately 700,000 rides per week, representing 62 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

“I’m proud that Edmonton is among the country’s leaders in bus ridership recovery. This is an important achievement and sets us on a strong path towards full ridership recovery. It reinforces that transit is an important part of enabling mobility in the region. Thank you to riders for choosing transit to connect with their communities and workplaces, as well as to ETS staff for their continued hard work and dedication," Hotton-MacDonald said.

A series of factors have contributed to the gradual but consistent increase in bus ridership over the past three years. ETS continued to provide full service levels throughout the COVID-19 pandemic while also implementing various enhancements to make transit more accessible, convenient and reliable for Edmontonians. In March 2021, the city implemented the Bus Network Redesign, which added On Demand Transit service and created a high frequency corridor for bus service. In November 2022, Arc – Edmonton region’s fare payment system – was launched to the Standard Adult fare group, in addition to U-Pass students, who had been using the system since August 2021, helping to make taking and paying for transit more convenient.

ETS reports paratransit service and light-rail ridership have also seen consistent upward trends. The agency plans a series of improvement throughout 2023 including:

  • Adding 500 additional weekly off-peak bus service hours to address shifting demand for more service outside of peak morning and afternoon hours.
  • Expanding Arc to include more rider fare groups, including youth, seniors and individuals participating in low-income transit programs.
  • Hiring additional Transit Peace Officers to further improve safety and security in transit spaces.
  • Increasing On Demand Transit service, which will reduce wait times, improve hours of service for seniors and serve more neighborhoods.

“We still have work ahead of us. We’re going to continue to implement changes to make transit more convenient, reliable and safe for Edmontonians,” Hotton-MacDonald said. “This year we will be making a number of service improvements to help build on this momentum.”