London Transit wants fare collection to resume no later than Sept. 1
Passenger numbers trending back up as businesses re-open, students return
Free rides on London Transit Commission (LTC) buses will soon become a thing of the past.
In a report coming to tonight's meeting of the LTC board, it's recommended the system move back to front-door boarding and regular fare collection no later than Sept. 1, or sooner if possible.
Rear-door boarding on buses was put in place in March to keep drivers and passengers separate as a way to limit the transmission of COVID-19.
The downside for the LTC was that passengers no longer had to pay fares. To date the LTC has lost more than $9.3 million in fare revenue.
In April the LTC ordered operator barriers — a see-through plastic box to keep drivers and passengers separate — for buses that didn't already have them installed. The LTC expects the entire fleet will have barriers by October, but barriers for some buses in the fleet began arriving early this month and are in the process of being installed.
We were losing a couple of million dollars a month by not having fares.- LTC board member Coun. Phil Squire
LTC board member Coun. Phil Squire said a return to collecting fares is essential for London's transit system.
"It's crucial, we were losing a couple of million dollars a month by not having fares," said Squire. "But we were left in a position with no choice because the province made it clear that barriers were the key to coming back and collecting fares."
The report says staff are working to have the barriers installed in 193 LTC buses so the system can be at 90 per cent of regular service levels by Sept. 6.
That's important because while ridership took a hit during the spring COVID-19 shutdown, ridership numbers are starting to rise as more businesses reopen. The report also directs administration to increase service levels for specialized transit, which serves riders who can't use regular transit.
Key question: How many students will return?
Full-time students at both Fanshawe College and Western University get transit passes included as part of their student fees. A total of 53,000 students received passes in 2018 and students make up about half of LTC's ridership.
Ahead of a fall semester when many classes are moving online due to coronavirus, the LTC has been consulting with both schools to estimate how many students still need passes.
The LTC report predicts a drop of about 30 per cent in the number of Western students participating in the fare pass plan this semester. For Fanshawe, that number is 55 per cent.
The safety of riders and LTC staff is also mentioned in the report. Masks or face coverings are now required on LTC buses and the commission is recommending passengers use pre-loaded payment cards for single fares. Also, they want to encourage passengers to go online to load the payment cards and buy monthly passes to avoid crowding at ticket locations.
LTC budget issues aren't over
While returning to fare collection will help the bottom line, Squire said the LTC's budget challenges are far from over.
Even with the return of students in September, ridership won't be what it was in the fall of last year.
On Monday the province announced $2 billion, split by the feds and the province, to help municipalities keep their transit systems running while they work to fill budget holes left by the coronavirus outbreak.
Squire said he's grateful for whatever share of that money lands on the LTC's budget sheet.
"Hopefully that money will start flowing because it will enable us to manage our budgets better," said Squire.