Staff Report #3 – COVID-19 Service and Ridership Impacts

Staff Report #3

July 29, 2020

To All Commissioners

Re: COVID-19 Service and Ridership Impacts


The report be NOTED and FILED.


The pandemic declaration in March of 2020 and associated lockdown measures that followed resulted in a significant decline in transit ridership across the country. In response to the decline in demand and decreased availability of employee resources relating to COVID-19, transit systems reduced service levels to better match ridership being experienced.

Specifically to London Transit, over the period a number of service level changes and reductions have taken place on both the conventional and specialized services. 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 92 and 94, short-turn supplementary Routes (102, 104 and 106) and community bus routes are not currently operating

The chart 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 are based on actual boardings as counted by the automatic passenger counters on buses.

Conventional Transit Ridership as a Percent of Normal

Ridership March April May June July to date
Weekday 25% 22% 35% 45% 53%
Saturday 36% 33% 46% 62% 68%
Sunday 35% 30% 54% 70% 75%

While not clearly delineated in the chart, significant bumps in ridership were experienced following the loosening of Provincial restrictions which took effect on both May 16, 2020 and June 12, 2020, and to a lesser degree on July 17, 2020. These increases support the fact that Londoner’s continue to rely on transit to both get to and from work as well as for general access to the community. When assessing these ridership numbers, it is important to consider that, given ongoing expectations with respect to physical distancing, riders are expecting less-crowded buses than what they would normally experience. This expectation was the rationale for leaving service levels at 70% of normal when ridership was hovering around 25% of normal.

Given the steadily increasing ridership numbers, and in conjunction with the Section 22 Class Order issued by the Middlesex London Health Unit making masks mandatory beginning July 20, 2020, the bungee cords that had been in place on buses in an effort to provide physical distancing between riders and bus Operators were removed and replaced with a yellow line on the floor closer to the front of the bus. All riders are expected to remain behind the yellow line, which is placed in a manner to continue to provide appropriate physical distancing between riders and bus Operators. On-board signage has been updated to reflect both the mandatory mask requirement as well as the new yellow line and associated expectations. Corporate social media accounts are being utilized to reinforce this messaging as well as the corporate website and internal screens.

While total ridership is gathered on a daily basis, further detailed analysis is also undertaken in an effort to identify routes that are experiencing higher ridership and crowding on buses. This information is shared regularly with Dispatch in an effort to ensure that the additional tripper buses being assigned daily are going where they will provide the greatest relief. The approach of inserting tripper buses on routes that are experiencing high ridership assists with crowding; however, given these buses are not scheduled, riders do not see them on the public timetable. This approach can result in riders cramming on the scheduled bus because they are unaware there has been an additional bus added to the route that may be less full. Given riders are boarding at the back door, it is difficult for the Operator to advise customers of the option to wait for the bus that is following. In cases where continued concerns are being experienced on a particular route, and where resources are available, administration has added additional buses to the schedule to ensure riders are more aware of when buses are scheduled. In April, Routes 1, 6 and 34 were adjusted slightly in an effort to ensure access to hospital employees with shifts ending close to the last scheduled bus on those routes, and on June 29, 2020 Routes 90 and 91 resumed operations in an effort to address significant ridership on routes serving local malls.

Fall Service Changes

The return of students to the city impacts 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 45% and 70%) of their students to campus for at least some 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 also rely on transit to get around the city.

At the end of June, the Operator group selected work from three different sign-ups:

  • 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 mid-August in order to take effect in early September. This decision will be primarily based on resource availability, noting current non-attendance trends indicate that returning to a regular level of service in September is unlikely. In an effort to address resource issues, 12 additional Operators have been hired, all scheduled to be fully trained and ready for service in 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; however, not to the same extent that has occurred on the conventional service. 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 as a Percent of Normal

Again, while not clearly depicted in the graph, ridership began to climb on May 16, 2020 and again on June 12, 2020 and July 17, 2020 as the restrictions were eased across the Province. 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.

Recommended by:

Katie Burns, Director of Planning

Shawn Wilson, Director of Operations

Concurred in by:

Kelly S. Paleczny, General Manager