Mr Gschwind said it would take a while for international tourism to recover so Queensland would aim to take maximum advantage of the domestic market in 2022.
Data from busways show the loss of international students and a move away from on campus classes for universities, with UQ Lakes (down 60 per cent) and Griffith University (57 per cent) topping the list, while the work-from-home trend led to big falls in people hopping on buses at Roma Street (57 per cent) and King George Square (45 per cent).
There was a 43 per cent decline in the average number of people hopping on buses at the tourism, dining and entertainment mecca of South Bank, while the Upper Mount Gravatt busway – at Garden City Shopping Centre – also suffered a big drop (42 per cent), showing people avoided public transport to the shops.
Property Council of Australia Queensland executive director Jen Williams said the drop-off in public transport confirmed a trend towards flexible working over the past 18 months.
“The data also shows that when commuting into the city, office workers are now more inclined to drive themselves than jump on the bus,” she said.
Ms Williams said changing health restrictions had kept people out of the CBD: “When masks were required, numbers plummeted. When restrictions were lifted, we saw people quickly return.”
She said increased vaccination rates, reduced restrictions and the “clear air of a new year” would likely result in a boost to the Brisbane city workforce from January, but it would be an ongoing challenge to shift habits from the past 18 months and incentives to hop on board might be needed.
“Getting people back on the bus or train will require a concerted effort to remind commuters of the benefits of public transport, along with the personal and professional benefits of being together with colleagues in a physical workplace,” Ms Williams said.
Brisbane City Council transport chair Councillor Ryan Murphy said people had started to return to trains, buses and ferries but bus patronage was still down almost 39 per cent compared with pre-COVID.
“As vaccination rates improve and restrictions ease, we’re confident that local commuters will return to their usual pre-pandemic travel routines,” he said.
“However, the recovery of our public transport system, along with our CBD, will take time as we wait for the return of interstate and international tourists as well as overseas students.”
Cr Murphy said buses continued to operate to their standard timetable during lockdowns and restrictions because the services were essential.
Transport Minister Mark Bailey said he was confident patronage would continue to rise during 2022 as vaccination rates increased.
At the height of the pandemic, in April 2020, public transport patronage dropped by more than 80 per cent.
In September 2021, public transport use was at 63 per cent of pre-COVID levels, after dropping to 47 per cent in August during an extended lockdown.
Earlier this year it was revealed taxpayers were forking out more than $40 for every trip taken on south-east Queensland’s trains as government subsidies ballooned amid a drastic fall in passenger numbers due to the pandemic.