When the COVID pandemic began in March, ridership on New Jersey Transit trains and buses dropped 95%.

Since the summer, when hospitalizations and deaths began to decline dramatically, ridership has increased slightly. But what happens further down the road is uncertain.

Ridership is now 20% and 25% of pre-pandemic levels on trains going into and out of New York, and ridership on New York-bound buses is back up to about 35%. But even after most adults in the Garden State and other locations across the country get the COVID-19 vaccine, there is speculation ridership will never return to what it once was because the definition of the work environment has changed so dramatically.

Some believe the work-from-home model that has been embraced by so many companies over the past 11 months will become permanent and New Jersey residents will no longer need to take a train or bus into New York City to do their jobs. But Kevin Corbett, the president and CEO of New Jersey Transit doesn’t think that will be the case.

He said after the 9/11 terror attack that destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001 many predicted there would never be another skyscraper built in the Big Apple and lower Manhattan would remain a ghost town but that didn’t happen.

In fact, he said the city came roaring back and demand for office and residential space was greater than ever.

He said before the pandemic, many companies had already started becoming more flexible about work requirements, “so this may accelerate some of that. But a lot of them feel they need people to be back, the growth in the region will be there and people will need mobility.”

Corbett pointed out highways into New York are almost as crowded now as they were a  a year ago.

“When things really open up, I think you’ll see very heavy traffic congestion, which will also help to drive people back to transit.”

He noted once the pandemic is under control, New York will draw people from the Garden State for many reasons other than work.

“They want to be socializing, they want to have fun, they want to go to a Yankee game or a hockey game, they want to go to the theatre, go to a concert. I think everyone is really maxed out on COVID and Zoom calls and everything else," he said. “Once they feel it’s safe to go back into the water, there will be a big explosion of activity, socialization. I fully expect that.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

NJ snowfall totals for Jan. 31-Feb. 2 storm

LOOK: Explosive recycling plant fire in Passaic