Rachel Windsor | June 23, 2023

In the realm of urban transportation, public transit can foster economic growth, reduce carbon emissions, and ensure equitable access for all. However, the COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges, leading to a decline in public transit ridership and financial strains on agencies across the country. In this blog, we explore an unexpected yet potent catalyst for revitalizing public transit: the influence of celebrities and the magnetic pull of big events. With a focus on the current Taylor Swift Eras Tour, we delve into how these phenomena can create sustainable momentum for public transit systems beyond single events.

Swifties Fueling the Transit Wave

Taylor Swift’s sold-out concerts have unwittingly transformed her into a beacon for public transit. The sheer dedication of her fans, affectionately known as Swifties, has resulted in an influx of commuters flooding trains, buses, and subways en route to catch her performances. Transit agencies have astutely leveraged this surge by adapting their services to meet the heightened demand, offering additional routes and frequencies tailored to concertgoers’ needs.

Shattering Records, Elevating Transit

Cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and even Pittsburgh have witnessed extraordinary spikes in ridership during Taylor Swift’s concert tours. The Chicago Transit Authority, for instance, reported its highest ridership numbers since the pandemic’s onset, crediting Swift’s sold-out show at Soldier Field as a significant contributor. Similarly, Atlanta’s Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority experienced a staggering surge in ridership during Swift’s performances at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, surpassing typical weekend numbers by a wide margin.

Image Source: CBS News Pittsburgh

Nurturing Long-Term Success

The phenomenon surrounding Taylor Swift’s concerts holds essential lessons for both policymakers and others seeking to navigate the post-pandemic world and fortify public transit systems for the future. There is a shared responsibility between transit agencies and organizations that promote tourism, major events and attractions to encourage people to use transit in the city. It’s clear that bolstering transit service, rather than reducing it, is pivotal in attracting and retaining ridership. Swift’s concerts exemplify how providing people with improved, reliable, and efficient transit alternatives encourages them to choose public transportation over being ensnared in suffocating traffic congestion.

Unleashing the Power of Promotion

Celebrities and major events possess an undeniable influence on public perception. Skillfully crafted advertisements and promotional campaigns have proven immensely successful in rekindling traveler interest and reclaiming public transit ridership. Those in leadership positions can glean inspiration from this and invest in engaging campaigns, offer fare discounts, and even explore the possibilities of free transit rides to entice individuals back into the transit fold. PRT, for example, invested heavily in promoting the use of transit on Twitter and other platforms in the days leading up to the concert.

Large events like the Eras Tour show that the landscape of transit is continuing to change and evolve in the post-pandemic world. It’s no longer primarily about the work commute. Transit needs to be reflective of people’s entire lives and needs, which includes going to major events, weekend activities, third shift jobs, and much more.

Embracing the New Work Landscape

The pandemic has transformed the traditional work landscape, with remote work becoming increasingly prevalent. Public transit agencies can adapt to this shifting paradigm by catering to the evolving needs of commuters. Enhancing service frequencies during off-peak hours and weekends, as well as providing seamless connectivity to alternative workspaces like coffee shops, fosters a sense of reliability and convenience, reinforcing public transit as a preferred mode of transport. While it made sense pre-pandemic to focus heavily on the workday commute, it’s clear that now people are using transit even more in other areas, including weekends and off-peak hours. Local trends, for example, show that weekend ridership has been rebounding at higher rates compared to weekday. It’s time that we start treating transit as a public good, that can be there reliably for people, regardless of how full the buses are at a given time.

The fusion of celebrities, big events, and public transit represents a potent opportunity to reinvigorate and sustain transportation systems in a post-pandemic world. Taylor Swift’s concerts serve as an illuminating case study, highlighting the potential for engaging fans and galvanizing public transit ridership. By drawing insights from these experiences, policymakers can make strategic investments in expanding transit services, implementing compelling promotional campaigns, and adaptively responding to the evolving needs of today’s commuters. Through collaborative efforts and astute strategies, we can foster a sustainable, interconnected future, with public transit at its vibrant core.

Image Source: Pittsburgh City Paper

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