Staff Report #3
June 30, 2021
To All Commissioners
Re: COVID-19 Ridership Impacts
The report be NOTED and FILED.
As set out in the Commission’s 2020 Annual Report, the pandemic declaration in March of 2020 and associated lockdown measures that followed resulted in a significant decline in transit ridership on both the conventional and specialized services. Late in 2020, the second wave of the pandemic resulted in public health measures including lockdowns which extended into the first part of 2021, and again in April of 2021 the third wave resulted in lockdowns that have only recently been modified to Stage 1 of the Provincial Plan on June 11.
Conventional Transit Ridership
The organizational philosophy adopted at the onset of the pandemic with respect to service levels was to ensure that all areas of the city that were served by transit would continue to be served, albeit at lesser frequencies based on employee resource availability. The conventional transit service has been operating at approximately 90% of normal service hours for each service period since September 2020. This is anticipated to continue through the summer of 2021.
The graph below provides an overview of the ridership levels on the conventional service for 2021 with comparative data for 2020, both as a percentage of what would normally be expected in each month noting the numbers are based on actual boardings as counted by the automatic passenger counters on buses. The bars are coloured to match the Provincial colour schemes associated with the various stages of lockdown as noted below:
Green Prevent – no, very limited restrictions in place
Yellow Protect & Stage 3 under the current re-opening plan – very limited restrictions in place
Orange Restrict & Stage 2 under the current re-opening plan – limited restrictions in place
Red Control & Stage 1 under the current re-opening plan – numerous restrictions in place
Grey Lockdown – full lockdown restrictions in place
The colour blue in the graphic is used for January and February 2020 given the pandemic declaration had not occurred at that point in time. Bars that are striped indicate a change during the month from the base colour to the striped colour.
2020 and 2021 Conventional Transit Ridership as a Percentage of Normal
The graph clearly depicts the impacts that the various stages of lockdown have on conventional transit service ridership. Of interest, the data for June 2021 indicates ridership on par with June 2020 when there were no restrictions in place.
With the spring service levels now in place, and ridership growing as Stage 1 re-opening took effect, a number of routes have experienced increased passenger loads, in some cases, passenger loads are exceeding 50 riders. Articulated buses will continue to be assigned to these routes where possible in an effort to address the crowding conditions. Employee resources that would typically be utilized to assign trippers to the affected routes are limited at this time due to the ongoing pandemic and related restrictions. This situation is monitored on a daily basis, and in the case where employees are available, tripper buses will be added to relieve pressure on the routes experiencing the heaviest loads.
Ridership data for 2020 cannot be broken down by fare category given fares were waived from March to August of 2020. The chart below provides a breakdown of the ridership by fare category for 2021 and provides the historic breakdown for 2019 (full pandemic-free year) as a comparison.
Conventional Ridership by Fare Category
The shifts in fare category usage from normal (2019) to 2021 provide insight into the manner in which riders are currently utilizing public transit. Both the cash and ticket/stored value fare category usage have doubled in terms of make-up in 2021 as compared to 2019. This is indicative of riders who are unsure of how often they will be utilizing the service. This shift is likely due in part to the continued uncertainty with respect to public health measures, noting that these two categories provide the rider with flexibility. The monthly pass category has, conversely, remained consistent with 2019, indicating that approximately 25% of ridership is made up of riders that will utilize the service frequently enough in a month to make the monthly pass a better value, these riders tend to be those relying on the service to get to/from work or school. The decline in the tuition pass category make-up is consistent with the decline in the number of students participating in the programs given the shift to online learning as the result of the pandemic.
These trends will continue to be monitored throughout 2021 in an effort to identify the shifts in fare category make-up and ensure that campaigns designed to regain riders post-pandemic is targeted at the appropriate category of rider.
Specialized Transit Ridership
Specialized services continue to operate at a level that will accommodate all trip requests with a maximum of two passengers per vehicle. This has been achievable primarily due to the decline in demand for the service throughout the pandemic period. Given trips on the specialized service are pre-booked, service can be adjusted in response to demand.
The graph below provides an overview of the ridership levels on the specialized service for 2021, with comparative data for 2020, both as a percentage of what would normally be expected in each month. Consistent with the earlier graph, the colours in the various bars are reflective of the stages of lockdown that were in place at the time.
2020 and 2021 Specialized Transit Ridership as a Percent of Normal
Specialized ridership in 2021 has doubled that of 2020 in the months that were impacted by the pandemic. The ridership increases on this service are also believed to be tied to the more lenient closures during the 2021 lockdowns, with more businesses remaining open for curbside pick-up. Anecdotally, based on discussions during the trip booking process, more riders are accessing the service for essential trips (i.e. groceries, medication, etc.) in 2021, where in 2020 they avoided going out and rather relied on other options to obtain necessities.
Ridership levels and trends will continue to be monitored closely throughout the remainder of 2021 noting estimates for ridership and related revenue in 2022 will be a significant component of the 2022 operating budget. While COVID-relief funding has been available in 2020 and 2021 to help address the operating budget shortfalls associated with the ridership declines, should that not be the case in 2022, decisions will need to be made with respect to balancing the operating budget in light of the anticipated slow return to historic ridership levels.
Katie Burns, Director of Planning
Shawn Wilson, Director of Operations
Mike Gregor, Director of Finance
Concurred in by:
Kelly S. Paleczny, General Manager