Lower-income riders continue to use the MBTA during the pandemic at greater rates than other income groups, and even the agency's most optimistic long-term projection scenario does not anticipate pre-pandemic ridership returning for years, officials said Monday.
An ongoing MBTA survey found that 70 percent of riders with annual incomes no greater than $43,500 reported using the T in the past week in January, compared to 35 percent for those with incomes of at least $76,000.
Before COVID-19 struck, slightly under 30 percent of the T's riders were low income, and at the peak of the statewide shutdown, more than half fell into that income bracket, indicating that workers who earn less depend more on public transit.
MBTA staff found a similar trend among riders of color, though both have smoothed out somewhat since the early days of the pandemic.
While presenting data on the varying ridership trends by demographic group, MBTA officials also forecast that demand is likely to stay depressed for a while longer.
Ridership across the system dropped to less than 15 percent of pre-pandemic levels in April, and today it still lingers slightly above 30 percent. That trend hews most closely to the most pessimistic of three scenarios the T modeled last year.
Two of the three projections, all of which were updated Monday, forecast a boost in ridership this fall once most of the state is vaccinated, while the third expects that it will take more time for ridership to return.
"All three scenarios have us winding up between 75 and 95 percent of pre-pandemic ridership by end of calendar year 2023," said Jen Elise Prescott, one of the T employees who presented the outlook to the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday.