Combined Effect of Changes in Transit Service and Changes in Occupancy on Per-Passenger Energy Consumption

Many transit providers changed their schedules and route configurations during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing more frequent bus service on major routes and curtailing other routes, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. This research first assessed the changes in Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) service configurations by reviewing the pre-pandemic vs. during-pandemic General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) files. Energy use per route for a typical week was calculated for pre-pandemic, during-closure, and post-closure periods by integrating GTFS data with MOVES-Matrix transit energy and emission rates. MARTA automated passenger count (APC) data were appended to the routes, and the energy use per passenger mile was compared across routes for the three periods. The results showed that the coupled effect of shift in transit frequency and decrease in ridership from 2019 to 2020 increased route-level energy use for more than 87% of the routes and per-passenger mile energy use for more than 98% of the routes. In 2021, although MARTA service had largely returned to pre-pandemic conditions, ridership remained in an early stage of recovery. Total energy use decreased to about the pre-pandemic level, but per-passenger energy use remained higher than pre-pandemic for more than 91% of the routes. The results confirm that while total energy use is more closely associated with trip schedules and routes, per-passenger energy use depends on both trip service and ridership. The results also indicated a need for data-based transit planning, to help avoid inefficiency associated with over-provision of service or inadequate social distancing protection caused by under-provision of service.