OC Transpo makes COVID-19 related service cuts

Special to WC Online

CITY HALL – OC Transpo staff shared their plan moving forward, including cutting routes, as COVID-19 continues wreak havoc on Ottawa’s public transportation service.

“The Transit Commission received a report entitled COVID-19 Service Adjustments Update during today’s (March 31) regular meeting which provides an update on service adjustments that will be implemented by OC Transpo on June 20, to better match the connectivity and capacity of the transit system to the current travel needs in Ottawa,” city staff released in a statement today. “OC Transpo’s top priority continues to be the health and safety of its customers and employees.”

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, OC Transpo implemented a series of measures to help keep customers and staff as safe as possible, including:

  • Mandatory masks in all vehicles and at all stations and shelters.
  • Enhanced cleaning of buses, trains, and stations.
  • Installation of barrier shields around operator cabs on buses.
  • Controlling the flow of buses into busy transfer stations.
  • Installation of hand sanitizer dispensers at stations.
  • Provision of touch-free fare payment.
  • On March 25, 2020, OC Transpo service levels were reduced by approximately 50 per cent.

“This was done to preserve operational capacity in case the virus had been transmitted much more quickly through the population than proved to be the case,” staff said. 

Over the months that followed, the full transit network was restored on June 27, 2020, and “transit service continued to be adjusted on an ongoing basis to reflect ridership levels.”

 While ridership has declined across the system during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not done so uniformly.

“Ridership on routes used primarily by customers travelling from suburban areas to points downtown have declined the most, while ridership on routes serving hospitals, shopping areas, and some employment locations has remained higher,” staff said.

 The federal and provincial governments provided funding through the Safe Restart Agreement (SRA) to make the city financially whole from April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020, after the reduced fare revenue and the additional COVID-19 costs. The remaining Phase 1 and Phase 2 Transit Safe Restart Agreement funding from 2020 can be used until March 31, 2021 to make OC Transpo financially whole, however any unused funds must be returned. The city has received confirmation of additional Transit SRA Phase 3 funding for April to December of $73.3 million.

“Through 2020 and continuing into 2021, city staff have been reducing operating expenses and capital spending while still maintaining service across the entire transit network,” staff said. “Moving forward, further transit service adjustments are required to better reflect current ridership needs and to help decrease costs where possible.”

There are five components to the COVID-19 service adjustments, which include:

  • The temporary suspension of selected peak-period routes with very low ridership and where there are other nearby transit service options available.
  • Frequency reductions on certain routes to better match actual current ridership levels.
  • Routes being shortened where parallel service is available.
  • Service improvements on several routes, including those serving hospitals, shopping districts, and growing employment areas, to respond to current travel needs.
  • A net reduction in operating costs resulting from these changes.

“Transit service will continue to be provided in all parts of the urban area where currently available,” staff said. “All parts of the urban area will continue to receive transit service that meets the applicable service standards. These service adjustments are based on current ridership counts and on suggestions from customers, employers, councillors, commissioners and staff.”

Service adjustments will result in a reduction in OC Transpo operations by approximately 2,170 service hours each week and a cost saving of approximately $5.5 million in 2021 in addition to the already approved $30 million in savings in the 2021 budget. If the effects of the pandemic continue into the full year of 2022, OC Transpo will see a cost savings of approximately $11 million.

“Workforce reductions will be achieved by attrition and reassignment,” staff said. “By the end of 2021, there will be approximately 70 fewer staff members funded from the transit operating budget than there are currently. There are no layoffs associated with this workforce reduction plan.”

Service adjustments will go into effect on Sunday, June 20. Full details will be communicated on octranspo.com, through signage and electronic materials, and will be accompanied by in-person customer outreach at key stations and times of day when the adjustments take effect. OC Transpo will continue to monitor and adjust transit service on an ongoing basis to safely meet the travel needs of Ottawa residents.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email