Staff Report #1
May 27, 2020
To All Commissioners
Re: LTC Pandemic Response Plan
The report be NOTED and FILED.
In March of 2020, a global pandemic was declared, the impacts of which were felt across all sectors of the economy. Responses to the pandemic by all levels of government have, and will continue to result in significant budgetary shortfalls going forward, resulting in many previously-approved programs being placed in jeopardy.
In best efforts to respond to the crisis, public transit services across the country abandoned all historic measures of effectiveness and efficiency, and directed focus on delivering an essential service in a manner that ensured the health and safety of employees and riders while continuing to adhere to public health expectations and regulatory requirements.
Several weeks after the declaration, while work continued on addressing the various issues arising from the pandemic, administration also began work on a Pandemic Response Plan. Given the ever-changing landscape during this period, and for the foreseeable future as government attempts to navigate a path to re-open the country, this 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 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 following provides a list of some of the responses that have been put in place over the past 11 weeks.
- move to rear-door boarding in an effort to limit passenger/Operator interaction. The only exception to this being passengers who require the accessibility features to board the bus, and all passengers boarding at the front doors are asked to confirm they are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms
- installation of social distancing signage and bungee cord on buses in an effort to limit passenger/Operator interaction
- regular and ongoing service level adjustments in response to ridership levels and resource availability
- enhanced nightly cleaning/disinfection of all high-touch surfaces on all buses
- enhanced cleaning/disinfection of all high-touch surfaces in facilities
- modifications of shift and break times to reduce the number of people in lunch rooms and change rooms
- signage on all buses and all facility access points asking the public and/or employees not to enter same if they are feeling ill and/or experiencing fever, cough or difficulty breathing
- provision of disinfectant on all buses to allow for cleaning the Operator area between shifts
- supply of cloth masks to all employees
- issuance of hand sanitizer to all Operators for use as required as well as availability for employees working in all facilities
- enhanced and ongoing communication reminding the public to use transit for essential trips only
- revised human resource polices with respect to vacation, unpaid leaves etc. in an effort to accommodate employees during the pandemic period
One of the key areas that is being reassessed almost daily is the service levels in place, and those planned for the future. Currently the conventional service is operating on a modified Saturday level which is approximately 30% less service than what would normally be in place at this time of year, operating as follows:
- Saturday level of service on weekdays with the exception of Routes 28, 30, 36 and 37 which continue to operate at weekday level service in order to serve the industrial areas of the city
- Sunday level of service on Saturdays
- Christmas Day level of service on Sundays and statutory holidays
- Noting that Express Routes (90, 91, 92 and 94), short turn supplementary Routes (102, 104 and 106) and community bus routes are not currently operating
The graph below provides an overview of the ridership levels on the conventional service since mid-March as a percentage of what would normally be expected at this time noting the numbers provided are actual boardings as counting by the automatic passenger counters on buses.
Conventional Transit Ridership (based on boardings)
While not clear in the graph, ridership from May 16, 2020 has onward increased by an average of 10% over the previous week. It is believed that most of this increase is attributable to the gradual opening of the Province, with retail stores able to open on May 19, 2020 and other amenities opened over the May long weekend. These ridership levels have resulted in larger passenger loads on almost every major route in operation. Currently tripper buses are being utilized to address crowding concerns; however, resources are limited given continued high employee absenteeism. Employee attendance is monitored regularly in an effort to ensure that the service being provided best matches resource availability.
While ridership numbers appear to be climbing, one week of data is not considered adequate to predict demand going forward. Given the many uncertainties associated with the pandemic, including the potential for both continued opening of the province and reverting to closures in response to increased cases, it is extremely difficult to predict the service levels that should be in place going forward. As such, two Operator work sign-ups have been prepared for the summer period, one which is representative of the service levels currently in place, and one which would replicate service levels that would normally be in place during the summer months. The Operator group will select work from both of these sign-up scenarios, and a determination will be made on which will operate as more information becomes available noting summer service levels would normally take effect on June 28, 2020.
Current resource availability does not allow for additional service to be put in place should ridership continue to grow. When the move to rear door boarding was initiated, a bungee cord was placed on each bus behind the first mobility-aid space in an effort to provide for physical distancing between the Operator and riders. Given the current and anticipated growth in ridership, administration is undertaking an assessment as to whether the physical distancing between the Operator and riders could be achieved with a yellow line on the floor, which could be moved closer to the front of the bus than the current bungee cord, but still provide for two metre distancing. This would result in additional room on the bus for passengers to spread out. Should this approach be implemented, the appropriate communication strategy would be launched to coincide with the change.
Given the timeframes required for signups and resulting work preparation, a similar process is being undertaken for the service that will take effect in September. The return of students to the city impact transit ridership significantly, making up approximately 50% of all conventional ridership. At time of report writing, it is anticipated that both Fanshawe and Western are expecting a return of a portion (between 50% and 70%) of their students to campus for classes. What is not known is the number of students that will return to the city to complete their studies online, noting many may have already made living arrangements. While these students may not be attending campus for classes, they will still rely on transit to get around the city. At the end of June, the Operator group will select work from three different signups:
- Regular September service levels (based on 2019 service noting 2020 service improvements have been deferred)
- 10% reduction in service levels – all routes serving the post-secondary schools would be at regular September levels, and remaining routes would operate on a Saturday level of service
- 30% reduction in service levels – modified Saturday service (similar to what is currently in place)
The service level that is ultimately put in place will need to be determined by August 21 in order to take effect in early September. This approach places the Commission in a position that allows service levels to be altered quickly in response to the changing environment.
On the specialized service, ridership has also begun to rise with the opening of the economy. The graph below provides the ridership on the specialized service since mid-March shown as a percentage of what would normally be expected during this time period.
Specialized Transit Ridership
Again, while not clearly depicted in the graph, ridership began to climb on May 16, 2020 as the restrictions were eased across the province, climbing by approximately 15% over the previous weeks. Modifying service levels on specialized is not as complicated noting the service is provided via contract, and as such, the ridership levels are being monitored and service levels can be increased as demand increases.
The other key area that is under assessment, both at London Transit as well as Canada-wide, is the ability to move back to front door boarding and the collection of fares.
On May 20, 2020, the province announced a number of recommendations for public transit providers to consider going forward, each of which is discussed further below.
- Physical distancing of at least two metres by admitting fewer passengers and using physical markers between seats
- In order to ensure two metre distancing between passengers, only four passengers and the driver would be allowed on a 40’ bus, which is not operationally feasible or practical
- Currently all conventional routes are monitored for loads in excess of 15 riders (which does not provide for two metre distancing) and where resources are available, additional buses are being deployed to spread riders out over more buses.
- LTC is not currently limiting loads, rather leaving the decision to the rider whether to board the bus. Should load limits be put into effect, it is anticipated that many riders will be passed by at stops leaving them with no access to transit service.
- As set our earlier in this report, administration is currently assessing the ability to replace the bungee cords currently in place with a line on the floor that would be closer to the front of the bus. This would provide more room on board the bus for passengers to spread out; however, this would still not achieve the two metre distance recommendation.
- The Ontario transit industry is working with the province to identify measures that can be put in place to provide for the safety of Operators and riders given the inability to ensure physical distancing (i.e. use of face coverings)
- The use of face coverings, particularly when physical distancing is not feasible
- LTC is recommending the use of face coverings while utilizing public transit. Beginning mid-April, website posts and responses to customer contacts made this recommendation
- Given the advice from the Canadian Medical Officer of Health with respect to mask use for those with medical conditions and/or those unable to remove the mask on their own, the requirement for masks cannot be made mandatory for all riders given some may have medical issues that preclude the ability to wear a mask. As such, the use of masks will continue to be strongly recommended versus mandatory.
- Administration is currently assessing the expansion of the communication strategy with respect to mask use noting the province may also be considering a similar step
- Ensuring the availability of alcohol-based hand rub upon entering and exiting the vehicle
- Administration is assessing this recommendation in cooperation with the Ontario Public Transit Association, noting there are a number of operational concerns including the availability of supply, the congestion that will be created upon boarding the bus, the potential hazards that will be created on board as puddles form under the dispenser and the ability to keep dispensers full with buses that are on the road for 18 hours per day.
- At this time, LTC will be recommending that transit riders bring their own hand sanitizer with them for use as they deem necessary based on recommendations from Public Health
- Implementing engineering controls like plexiglass windows between drivers and passengers
- The Commission approved the order and installation of glass and metal Operator barriers at its March 19, 2020 meeting. The barriers are set to begin arriving in early July and will be installed as they arrive; however, a portion of the fleet consists of an older bus design which has to be measured and proto-typed prior to the barrier being manufactured, which will result in a longer time period for barriers to be installed on this series of buses. Administration is assessing options to equip these buses with some form of barrier in the interim depending on the length of delay associated with receipt of the glass and metal barrier.
- Enhanced cleaning, particularly of high-touch surfaces.
- All buses continue to be subject to enhanced cleaning nightly as they return to the garage
Further guidance with respect to the aforementioned recommendations is expected from the province in the coming days, and will be reported on verbally at the Commission meeting.
The initial iteration of the Pandemic Response Plan is set out in Enclosure I (for Commissioners only), noting the final Rebuild phase has not yet been drafted. Regular updates with respect to the implementation of this Plan will be provided to the Commission as appropriate.
I – Pandemic Response Plan (for Commissioners only)
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