Staff Report #1
July 29, 2020
To All Commissioners
Re: COVID-19 Pandemic Response Update
That the Commission:
- DIRECT administration to return to front-door boarding and fare collection no later than September 1, 2020 with a preference to do so sometime in August if possible;
- DIRECT administration to increase conventional transit service levels to approximately 90% of September 2019 service levels effective September 6, 2020;
- DIRECT administration to begin to increase specialized transit service levels in response to demand; and
- DIRECT administration to continue to share financial projections relating to COVID-19 budget impacts with civic administration.
As set out in Staff Report #1 – Pandemic Response Plan, dated May 27, 2020, in light of the pandemic declaration in March of 2020, followed by an extended period of responding to issues as they arose, a Pandemic Response Plan was developed in an effort to navigate the organization through not only the pandemic period, but also the period following. The Plan will be an iterative document, intended to guide the organization through the crisis and back to the place it was prior to the pandemic. The Plan breaks down the path to recovery into three primary phases:
- Resolve – assess issues as they arise in an effort to maintain services;
- Resiliency – reassess decisions made in the Resolve phase and implement practices and policies that will ensure resiliency going forward as the pandemic situation continues to evolve; and
- Rebuild – establish a transit system that has responded to the challenges created by the pandemic and its lasting effects including shifts in ridership patterns, levels and expectations; public health expectations relating to the safety of employees and riders; availability of funding from all levels of government; and community priorities
Currently, the organization is considered to be in the Resolve phase of the Plan, as recommendations and directives from the Province are changing on an almost daily basis; however, some of the issues that have been addressed in this phase are already being revisited based on new information or direction. The remainder of this report provides details with respect to the COVID-19 related actions taken since the last update report provided in June (see Staff Report #3, dated June 24, 2020).
Return to Front-Door Boarding and Fare Collection
On June 11, 2020, the Province released a Guidance document for public transit providers and passengers in response to COVID-19. The document indicates that, where physical distancing between employees and the public is not possible, transit employers should consider the use of a physical partition. This recommendation would apply to consideration for returning to front-door boarding and fare collection.
At the April 17, 2020 meeting, the Commission approved the purchase of Operator barriers for the bus fleet in response to a recommendation from the Joint Health and Safety Committee. Given the barriers being ordered had already been pilot tested at London Transit on one series of buses in the fleet (New Flyer Excelsior), an order for these buses (156 in total) could be placed immediately following Commission approval. These barriers began arriving the week of July 13, 2020 as detailed in the summary table below. LTC employees were able to complete the installs more quickly than estimated by the supplier, and as such have been able to install 30 barriers per week.
The remainder of the buses in the LTC fleet are the New Flyer D40 series, which had not yet been measured by the barrier supplier as they were not included in the LTC pilot program. Given COVID-19 related travel restrictions, the supplier has been unable to travel to London to undertake the necessary measurements. In an effort to speed up this process, administration worked with Brampton Transit and borrowed a barrier from one of their D40 series buses to see if it would fit on the LTC buses (noting each bus is configured slightly differently given placement of fare collection equipment). LTC employees were able to successfully install the barrier on a D40 bus, with some minor modifications. This process resulted in the ability to issue a purchase order for 59 D40 series buses that will remain in the fleet subsequent to the receipt of the 2020 replacement bus order. A purchase order was issued on July 16, 2020; however, given the increased demand for these barriers, delivery is scheduled for mid to end of September, meaning the timeline for the entire fleet to be retrofitted with these barriers would be sometime in early October.
Given the expectation of extended delivery times for the second barrier order, coupled with the desire to return to front-door boarding and fare collection sooner than October and the Provincial guideline document indicating the need for some form of barrier, administration undertook the assessment of a temporary barrier solution for the D40 series of buses. As discussed in previous update reports, a number of transit systems chose to install a temporary barrier, made of plexi-glass or Lexan in an effort to return to front-door boarding. Many of the transit systems utilizing these temporary barriers experienced issues with respect to glare for the bus Operator, resulting in potential safety concerns, and changes to the design have been made in an effort to alleviate these concerns. Administration conducted a scan of the various designs in place, and determined that the temporary barrier design currently being utilized by Grand River Transit appeared to have addressed the majority of the glare concerns with the installation of a sliding portion of the barrier that can be opened to increase visibility (and closed when passengers are boarding). Administration worked with Grand River Transit to borrow one of their barriers to install on an LTC D40 series bus and have the joint health and safety committee assess it. The barrier was deemed to be acceptable to the Joint Health and Safety Committee, with the caveat that communication would need to be provided to all Operators with respect to the steps they could take to alleviate glare issues when driving buses with this temporary barrier in place (open the sliding portion or change position in the seat). Subsequent to this approval, administration has arranged with a local supplier to build the temporary barriers with a stock of Lexan that had been previously secured in anticipation of the delays associated with the original barrier order. The supplier has indicated their ability to build and deliver the required 60 barriers by the end of August at a cost of $960 per barrier. The delivery and installation of these barriers is also reflected in the table below. The plan is to remove these temporary barriers and replace them with the permanent ones when they arrive in late September. The temporary barriers will be offered to another transit system for use, noting systems have already expressed interest in purchasing them when London Transit no longer needs them.
The final piece required in order to have the entire fleet retrofitted with permanent barriers is the receipt of the 2020 replacement buses, which are scheduled to begin arriving in late September through October. This delivery was also affected by COVID-19 noting the buses were originally expected to be delivered in August; however, plant shutdowns extended the delivery period. It is expected that the 16 replacement buses will all be placed into service by the end of the year.
As indicated in the report recommendation, September 1, 2020 is being recommended as the latest date at which the return to front-door boarding and fare collection will commence. In order for this to occur consistent with the recommendation in the Provincial guidelines with respect to returning to front-door boarding, the required number of buses for daily service, plus a spare ratio of 20% will need to be equipped with either the permanent or temporary barrier. The following table sets out the expected timelines associated with each of the barrier installations described above and the total number of buses that will be completed and in service each week, noting that given the intent to increase service levels effective September 6, 2020, 151 buses would be required for scheduled peak service, with an additional 11 required for trippers. An additional 42 spare buses are also required to be equipped in order to ensure regular maintenance and MTO inspections can be completed while still operating, as such a total of 193 buses will be required by September 6, 2020.
Scheduled Barrier Installations Assuming All Deliveries Remain On Schedule
|Week Ending||Excelsior Permanent||D40 Temporary||D40 Permanent||2020 Excelsior||Total Completed|
|July 24, 2020||57||57|
|July 31, 2020||87||87|
|Aug 7, 2020||117||117|
|Aug 14, 2020||144||15||159|
|Aug 21, 2020||15||174|
|Aug 28, 2020||15||189|
|Sept 4, 2020||15||204|
|Oct 2, 2020||(60)||60||204|
|Nov 27, 2020||8||212|
|Dec 25, 2020||8||220|
As indicated in the table above, should all delivery schedules continue to be met, there will be the required number of buses retrofitted with barriers by August 31, 2020. Administration continues to work with the suppliers in effort to speed up deliveries, and in the event this occurs, the move to front-door boarding and fare collection could resume sooner than September 1, 2020. In the event that a disruption in delivery of barriers occurs, and the required number of buses are not completed by the September 6 service change, services will be reduced starting with the elimination of tripper buses and extending to potential route/run cancellations as required.
The report recommendation calls for the return to front-door boarding and fare collection no later than September 1, 2020. The option of moving to front-door boarding and fare collection on buses that have been equipped with barriers to-date was assessed and discounted noting this approach:
- would result in significant confusion for customers noting they would not know which door to board at, nor whether they would have to pay, until the bus arrived at the stop;
- could result in increased crowding on buses that have not been equipped with a barrier noting customers may choose to let a barrier-equipped bus go by to avoid fare payment and wait for a bus with no barrier; and
- would be difficult to communicate to the public, given the expectations would vary depending on the bus that is being boarded.
Communications are being prepared with respect to the resumption of front-door boarding and fare collection, with emphasis on the following:
- encouraging the use of the smart card stored value as a safer, contactless option versus paper tickets for riders requiring a transfer given that the transfer is automatically loaded on the smart card and no passing of a paper transfer will be required;
- encouraging smart card users to revalue online in order to avoid long lineups and crowding at revaluing locations at month end;
- encouraging smart card users that wish to revalue their cards in person not to wait until the last days of the month to purchase their monthly pass in order to avoid long lineups and crowding and provide a list of locations where revaluing is currently being offered; and
- reminders for riders that passenger flow expectations will be to board through the front-door and exit through the rear-door with the exception of those requiring the accessibility features of the bus.
Communication with respect to front-door boarding and fare collection resuming will be rolled out well in advance of the effective date.
In addition, the publicly accessible areas of the LTC facilities utilized for selling fares and revaluing smart cards will be equipped with all necessary signage, hand sanitizer and queuing for physical distancing in preparation for the return of customers. In light of physical distancing requirements, only two windows will be open at the downtown ticket office, which may result in longer wait times. Additionally, limitations on the number of people in the facility at a time will be limited to a maximum of four people, with all others being required to wait in line outside. Similar limitations will be in place at the Highbury facility.
September Service Level Increases
As set out in Staff Report #3, dated July 29, 2020, ridership levels continue to increase as the Province continues to loosen restrictions. September marks the return of students, which historically have represented a significant portion of ridership. Administration has worked closely with representatives from both Western and Fanshawe in an effort to gain an understanding of the number of students expected to be returning to London and participating in the tuition pass programs. In an effort to address the impacts the move to online learning is anticipated to have on the student population, contract addendums have been prepared and are in the process of being executed for both the Western undergrads and Fanshawe which provides an exclusion for students who will be fully online and potentially not residing in London as a result. These addendums will impact the 2020/21 academic year only and contracts will be renegotiated for the academic year beginning in September 2021. Estimates for student participation in the tuition pass programs as the result of the new exclusion will see an approximate 30% reduction in Western undergrad students, and a 55% reduction in Fanshawe students. The Western Society of Graduate Students have indicated no need for an addendum for their student population given the expectation that all students will continue to interact with campus in some manner as part of their studies.
Even with the reduced number of students participating in the universal pass programs, those returning, coupled with the steady increases in ridership experienced over the past several months, warrant the need to increase service levels beginning in September. Additionally, given ongoing concerns with respect to another wave of COVID-19, and the public expectations around physical distancing, the recommended service levels for September are anticipated to meet the expected ridership demand with less crowding than would normally occur on the conventional service. The report recommendation calls for the implementation of service levels which represent approximately 90% of those in place September 2019, noting this is anticipated to be in line with the resource availability at that time. The following provides a brief overview of the service that will be in place effective September 6, 2020, should the report recommendation be approved:
- all routes serving Western University and Fanshawe College (2, 4, 6, 9, 10, 13, 17, 20, 25, 27, 31, 33, 34, 90, 93, 102, 104 &106) will resume to regular service levels (based on September 2019 service);
- industrial routes (30, 36 & 37) will operate on a modified weekday service, noting the late evening trips on Routes 30 and 36 will not operate;
- Community bus routes 51, 52, 53, 54, 55 and 56 will resume operating; and
- all other routes will maintain a modified Saturday level of service similar to what is currently operating.
With respect to the specialized service, the report recommendation calls for service levels to be increased beginning in September to a level that addresses ridership demand. Given the nature in which specialized services are delivered, ridership demand can be assessed based on daily trip requests, and schedules can be adjusted accordingly. As indicated in Staff Report #3, dated July 29, 2020, ridership levels have not rebounded as quickly on the specialized service, and currently all requests for trips are being accommodated. Service levels will only be increased in the event that ridership demands warrant the increase.
Section 22 Class Order – Mandatory Masks on Public Transit and Vehicles for Hire
Per the Section 22 Class Order issued by the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), masks/face coverings became mandatory on Monday July 20, 2020. In preparation for this requirement, the following initiatives were undertaken prior to the effective date:
- new on-board signage was installed indicating that masks are now mandatory when riding transit;
- external announcements are being changed to play a recorded message reminding people that masks are mandatory;
- internal communications have been provided to LTC employees reminding them of the requirement for them to wear masks while operating the transit vehicle;
- LTC social media has been utilized to remind riders of this new requirement, this will continue going forward;
- the LTC website was updated with this information, noting a direct link to the MLHU website is provided for specific details regarding the order and related exemptions; and
- it was confirmed with the MLHU that enforcement of this order rests with the health unit, and as such, LTC Operators would notbe refusing transport of riders without a mask, nor would they be asking riders why they are not wearing a mask.
While no specific audits have been undertaken, anecdotal feedback has indicated that mask use on London Transit has increased significantly subsequent to the effective date of the Order.
City of London By-law and Public Health Instruction
On July 17, 2020, the Medical Officer of Health issued a public health instruction, requiring that effective midnight July 17, 2020, masks/face coverings were required to be worn within enclosed publicly-accessible spaces across London and Middlesex County. This instruction resulted in minimal impact on LTC facilities noting the Wonderland facility is not open to the public, and the Highbury facility has only a small area in reception that is open to the public, as well as the main boardroom during Commission meetings. The downtown ticket office will be the most significantly impacted as it is open to the public. All locations have been equipped with appropriate signage indicating the new requirement.
On July 21, 2020 Municipal Council approved a by-law to temporarily require the use of face coverings within enclosed publicly-accessible spaces in the City of London. Given this by-law essentially mirrors the instructions previously issued by the Medial Officer of Health, there were no additional actions required in order to ensure LTC compliance.
Physical Distancing for Operators/Riders
The bungee cord that had been installed on all buses in an effort to ensure physical distancing between the Operator and riders was removed over the weekend of July 18/19, 2020 and replaced with a yellow line on the floor closer to the front of the bus. Effective July 20, 2020 passengers are required to stay behind the yellow line, which ensures physical distancing between Operators and passengers while at the same time provides additional space on board for passengers to spread out. Given different bus configurations, the first seat on the front curbside of the bus may also be taped off in order to ensure physical distancing. The following steps have been undertaken with respect to this initiative:
- new on-board signage has been installed indicating that passengers must remain behind the yellow line;
- internal communications have been provided to LTC employees reminding them of the new location of the yellow line and expectations of passengers; and
- LTC social media and corporate website has been utilized to advise riders of this new requirement, this will continue going forward as a reminder of expectations.
Administration will continue to provide updates with respect to the Pandemic Response Plan and actions taken to date.
All impacts on the operating budget are tracked with respect to reason. Upon the declaration of the pandemic, COVID-19 related impacts were tracked separately. The most significant impact on the operating budget performance relating directly to COVID-19 is the move to rear-door boarding and the related waiving of fare collection. Savings in labour costs and fuel make up the majority of favourable expenditure impacts on the conventional operating budget. With respect to the specialized operating budget, the favourable expenditure impact is entirely related to savings in contracted services associated with the reduction in service levels to match ridership demand throughout the pandemic period.
The following sets out the worse-case estimates for budget shortfalls to date, with estimates for July as well as options for funding same.
Worse Case Budget Shortfalls To Date Associated with COVID-19
|To Date||July (Est)||Total|
|General Operating Reserve||$ 2,999,000||(2,999,000)||–|
|Energy Management Reserve||2,403,000||(2,403,000)||–|
|Assessment Growth from 2020||1,095,300||(1,095,300)||–|
Administration is undertaking a complete re-costing of both the 2020 and 2021 operating budgets for both the conventional and specialized transit services as part of the 2021 budget process. These budgets will be presented to the Commission for approval at the August meeting, and subsequently forwarded to civic administration for inclusion in the overall budget review being undertaken by Municipal Council.
It is anticipated that the information required to make better estimates with respect to the overall revenue impacts will be available and reflected in the re-costed budgets. Additionally, details with respect to the Federal/Provincial funding programs discussed in Staff Report #2 dated July 29, 2020 are anticipated to be finalized, and same will be incorporated into the budget reports as options to fund COVID-19 related shortfalls in both 2020 and 2021.
Mike Gregor, Director of Finance
Shawn Wilson, Director of Operations
Joanne Galloway, Director of Human Resources
Craig Morneau, Director of Fleet & Facilities
Katie Burns, Director of Planning
Concurred in by:
Kelly S. Paleczny, General Manager