London

London Transit struggling after virus causes fare revenue to vanish along with riders

London’s public transit system is facing a potentially crippling financial crisis after a precipitous drop in ridership brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has led to an estimated $7.2 million shortfall for June. 

"The mode that we’re operating in is not sustainable," GM tells Parliamentary panel

LTC Ridership plunged by as much as 30 per cent from mid-March to late April, according to an internal report from the London Transit Commission. (Colin Butler/CBC)

London's public transit system is facing a potentially crippling financial crisis after a precipitous drop in ridership brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has led to an estimated $7.2 million shortfall for June. 

An internal report on the London Transit Commission's response to the crisis released Tuesday suggested that ridership may have plunged as much as 30 per cent below what the agency would normally expect from mid-March to late April, the worst weeks of the epidemic in the city to date.

The report said since the province has eased some of the restrictions put in place when the pandemic began, ridership has grown, by as much as 10 per cent in the week following May 16 alone. 

On Tuesday, LTC general manager Kelly Paleczny told a Parliamentary panel on public transportation that because the agency's finances were so battered by the virus, the LTC's ability to safely absorb more riders is now in doubt.

"We know that the demand out there right now is close to exceeding our ability to respond to it. We would like to put more service out, but obviously that's a struggle when we're dealing with the shortfalls that we're dealing with."

Since the pandemic began, the LTC has been forced to do without fares, since passengers are required to board at the back of the bus and keep a physical distance from each other and the driver at all times. 

Paleczny told the federal panel the mounting cost of physical distancing is putting pressure on transit around the country to operate and maintain their systems. 

"I will say that I know that through talking to colleagues that virtually every system in the country is looking to get back to front-door boarding and begin collecting fares right now, because we realize the mode that we're operating in is not sustainable."

Given the vast uncertainties associated with the pandemic, it's virtually impossible to come up with scenarios for each possibility going forward, the LTC said in its internal report. 

The report points to the fall when students return to the city and ridership jumps by as much as 50 per cent, which could be costly, especially if the LTC continues its current regimen of more frequent cleaning of vehicles, which are being run below capacity. 

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