The COVID-19 pandemic altered daily life by forcing governments to issue measures for the prevention of the spread of the disease such as stay-at-home orders, requiring face coverings, and maintaining physical distancing, among others. This caused a significant disruption in every aspect of people’s lives. This disruption was prominent in the transportation sector where travel decreased drastically. Although highway travel rebounded quickly as businesses, retail, services, and other workplaces and services returned to in-person activities, the much slower rebound of transit ridership raises a concern that transit users might not fully return in the short or medium term. This may cause increased congestion, particularly in cities where many commuters rely on transit travel. Beyond the impact of significant telework, one reason for this drop in ridership may be an individual’s psychological factors like stress/fear of catching a virus in mass transportation systems like transit. These factors could play a major role in predicting the future use of transit.
This research examines the results from a survey of travelers’ stated use of transit before, during, and after the pandemic, focusing on identifying factors associated with the change in transit use, including survey instruments to assess the stress and fear of COVID-19. Traveler’s stress levels during the survey were also measured using Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) and facial expression, along with self-reported levels of stress. This may provide additional insight into the reasons why many travelers have not returned to transit. An additional effort included a virtual reality (VR) experiment with skin conductance response (SCR) measurements and the survey questionnaire that could immerse subjects in a typical transit situation and that could provoke a reaction of risk related to COVID-19 that could be used to record peaks in the stress levels of the persons.