London

Free rides on city buses to end on Aug. 19

Londoners have just one more week to take a free ride on a city bus. London Transit has announced it will resume front door boarding and fare collections beginning Wednesday, August 19.

Driver barriers will allow front door boarding and fare collections to resume

The London Transit Commission (LTC) has announced it will resume front door boarding and fare collections beginning Wednesday, Aug. 19. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Londoners have just one more week to take a free ride on a city bus.

The London Transit Commission (LTC) has announced it will resume front door boarding and fare collections beginning Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Passengers have been boarding buses through the rear doors since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March in order to avoid coming into contact with drivers.

But the LTC is now building operator barriers – a see-through plastic box – that will shield drivers from passengers.

LTC General manager Kelly Paleczny says not all of the buses will be outfitted with barriers right away, but "enough buses for us to be to be able to provide the level of service that we're currently providing."

She expects the entire fleet will be equipped prior to Sept. 6, when service will be restored to 90 per cent of previous levels.

Passengers will be required to enter through the front door and exit through the back door to achieve one-direction flow. However, passengers with accessibility needs will still be permitted to use the front door to exit.

Ridership down but growing

The free rides have cost the LTC at least $9.3 million in lost revenue and spurred the commission to find a way to restore the collection of fares.

Paleczny said it could be many months before revenues return to pre-pandemic levels. She anticipates lower than usual ridership levels well into 2021.

However, ridership has risen since more businesses have reopened.

"We were at a low very early on in the pandemic, where we were at 25 per cent of what our normal ridership would be back in March and April. And in July, we're sitting at probably about 55 per cent on weekdays and as high as 75 and 80 per cent on weekends."

Since mid-July, masks or face coverings have been required on LTC buses and Paleczny said she's pleased with the level of compliance.

"Anecdotally, we're seeing that the majority of customers are wearing masks."

There is onboard signage and other messaging reminding riders to wear a mask, and she said they're assuming that anyone not wearing one is among those who qualify for a medical exemption.

The commission has also announced that monthly passes will not be available for August. From August 19 to August 31, tickets, cash or stored value on a Smart Card will be accepted for fares.`

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