Ticket prices, changed travel needs and route diversions behind decline in tram ridership, HSL’s survey shows

The passenger numbers on HSL public transport are still behind the pre-pandemic levels. The decline is especially evident in tram ridership. According to a survey on tram services conducted by HSL in spring 2023, passengers use trams less often than before due to the price of tickets. However, ticket prices were not the only reason for the decline in tram ridership.

The purpose of the study was to identify reasons why passenger numbers on tram services have not increased at the same rate as on other public transport services after the pandemic. Based on the results from the survey, we aim to find solutions to grow passenger numbers on tram services within the boundaries of economic feasibility.

Of the 11,000 survey respondents, 30 per cent stated that they now use trams less often compared to the pre-pandemic situation. 52 per cent of tram users said that the reason for this is ticket prices. Other common reasons included changed travel needs (39%), tram route diversions (37%) and the desire to get more incidental exercise (20%).

24 per cent of the respondents said that they now use tram services more than they did before the pandemic. 40 per cent answered that there have been no changes to how they use trams. 95 per cent of the respondents live in Helsinki and 77 per cent within zone A.

How to increase passenger numbers?

The results from the survey do not provide any direct answers as to how to combat the declining trend in tram ridership.

“However, the price of tickets is one of the key elements affecting the use of tram services, although it is clear that the matter is a complicated one with many interrelated factors to consider. The next step is to have our experts investigate the themes identified in the study to find the best and most effective ways to increase tram usage. When working on finding a solution, we need to examine our pricing and ticket products from the viewpoint of the entire HSL area,” says Milla Wiksten, head of the southern market unit at HSL.

People’s travel habits have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, more and more people work from home. This is evident in Helsinki city center where there is no shortage of jobs that can also be done remotely. In addition, people now choose to walk shorter distances more than before the pandemic. Overall, central Helsinki attracts fewer people than it did before. Furthermore, there has been a decline of 20 per cent in the passenger numbers on bus services within Helsinki.

Due to a number of street improvement projects in Helsinki, tram services have also been affected by various route changes that have had a detrimental effect on the level of service. During and after the pandemic, such projects have been carried out for instance on Hämeentie, Helsinginkatu, Runeberginkatu, Mannerheimintie and Aleksis Kiven katu and in Pikku Huopalahti and Pasila. Even though new sections of tramway are constantly being built, the construction work will continue to have a negative impact on services for several years to come.

In this light, it is not surprising that 19 per cent of those who no longer use tram services as often as before said that the numerous construction projects were the reason for their changed travel habits. Similarly, 18 per cent stated that they use trams less often due to the diversion routes they find complicated.

Further actions based on the survey results

The next step is to analyze the information we have gathered. It is also possible that further studies need to be carried out.

“There are no ready solutions to the matter at this point. Then again, no solutions, such as changes to ticket prices, have been excluded. All that matters is making the best solutions based on the data available. Our goal is to identify effective means that contribute to a balanced economy and a favorable development of passenger numbers,” says Wiksten.

In addition to changes to ticket prices, possible solutions may include, for instance, more effective and personalized communication with our customers. This might help to alleviate the problems that the changes to tram routes cause.