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Metro Vancouver transit ridership hasn't recovered from COVID-19: TransLink CEO

Last Updated Sep 28, 2020 at 1:54 pm PDT

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

Close to half of bus riders have not returned to transit since the pandemic began

Even fewer riders have gotten back onboard the West Coast Express: TransLink

Seabus ridership is down 27 per cent, while that for HandyDart is down 35 per cent

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Close to half of bus riders have not returned to transit as TransLink resumed full services this past summer after limiting them in the early days of COVID-19.

Even fewer riders got back onboard the West Coast Express and TransLink is expecting revenue losses of $2 billion to $4.5 billion over the next 10 years, CEO Kevin Desmond said during a quarterly board meeting on Monday.

Overall, ridership is still down compared to pre-COVID levels, he added.

“These are probably a lot of people that can very easily work from home and continue to work from home,” Desmond said.

On buses — the most used transit service — ridership is down 43 per cent compared to before the pandemic.

“It has responded somewhat more quickly than the other ones, all the way down to West Coast Express, which has had the weakest ridership return,” Desmond said of buses.

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Only 17 per cent of riders returned to the West Coast Express, while that for SkyTrain is about a third of what it was before.

The Expo and Millenium lines are at 38 per cent ridership compared to that before COVID-19. The Canada Line is at 31 per cent ridership.

Seabus ridership is down 27 per cent, while that for HandyDart is down 35 per cent.

Ridership varies by region 

According to TransLink, ridership varies by region to region, with fewer people in centralized areas — such as Vancouver — returning to transit, compared to the suburbs.

Ridership overall is down 39 per cent in the Vancouver-UBC area. That in Burnaby and New Westminster is down 37 per cent.

Ridership is down 42 per cent in the southwest area, 51 in the southeast, 37 in the northeast, and 55 in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

TransLink sought financial assistance from governments in April as revenue losses totalled about $75 million a month after introducing several measures to curb transmission of the virus, including read-door boarding and waiving fares.

Mayors look to increase ridership

TransLink initially planned to lay off about 1,500 employees, reduce senior executive salaries, and suspension of transit services, including buses, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express to cope with the revenue losses.

The federal government then provided about $540 million in direct aid to public transit in B.C.

TransLink then announced in August that masks or face-coverings are mandatory onboard transit vehicles.

With more people opting-out of taking transit and getting back into cars amid the pandemic, Metro Vancouver mayors are poised to consider how to increase ridership and decrease traffic.

A report set to be tabled at the Oct. 1 meeting of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation points out some of the challenges TransLink is facing due to the pandemic.