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TransLink set to reveal new COVID-19 initiatives; financial woes not likely to end

Last Updated May 21, 2020 at 7:24 am PST

FILE: A TransLink bus in downtown Vancouver. (CityNews Vancouver)

New measures aimed at protecting transit users from COVID-19 are set to be revealed Thursday

Announcement comes as TransLink moves back to near pre-pandemic service levels

TransLink previously estimated that it lost $75 million a month due to decreased ridership amid the pandemic

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – TransLink is set to reveal several new measures meant to protect riders from COVID-19 Thursday morning.

It comes as it makes a return to almost pre-pandemic service levels this week, but some of the changes may make it hard for the cash-strapped transit authority to see pre-pandemic revenue coming in again.

“Public transit in particular is facing big challenges,” says Matti Siemiatycki, Interim Director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto. “Ridership over the past two months is down between 85 and 90 per cent across the country and it’s leaving a huge hole in the public transit revenues.”

Siemiatycki says as provinces slowly reopen their economies and more people look to public transit to get around once again, efforts to physically distance are one of the biggest challenges.

“Until we have a vaccine, people are not gonna be able to congregate and come together in very tight quarters, which is essentially the public transit business model,” he adds. “It’s called mass transit — we put a lot of people on vehicles together and move them more efficiently than we could if they were in a car by themselves.”

TransLink previously estimated that it lost $75 million a month due to an 83 per cent drop in ridership in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions. It had planned to layoff about 1,500 employees and suspend a few dozen bus routes until the province revealed reopening plans.

Attempts to encourage physical distancing on buses and SkyTrains will likely have an impact on how many vehicles are needed, carrying capacity, and revenue, says Siemiatycki.

“On some systems right now they’re trying to limit the number of people on each vehicle to around 15. That is a huge difference from a vehicle that can carry in some cases 60, 80, 100 people at a time,” he adds.

“If you’re carrying 15 fare-paying customers instead of 70 or 80 fare-paying customers, that’s a big difference in terms of how much money is coming in.”

TransLink is set to start collecting bus fares again on June 1 after stopping on March 20, when it halted front-door boarding.

Siemiatycki says the next few months will be critical for public transit across the country.

“I think in the long term transit will come back and it will be a critical part of our cities, but in the mid- to short-term, they need bridge financing just like many other businesses and sectors of the economy that are receiving that support from their provincial and federal governments.”