While restrictions from COVID-19 curbed Regional District of Nanaimo Transit bus ridership, relaxation of restrictions have led to slow increase over recent months, an RDN staff report says.
Buses in the region saw 250,000 boardings for the month of January, according to an RDN transit select committee report, but in the months after the pandemic was declared, that number dropped and there were a little more than 50,000 bus rides in April. The B.C. government eased restrictions in May with Phase 2 of its COVID-19 recovery plan and ridership has gradually increased, said the report, with a little more than 140,500 people boarding buses during September.
This past summer, RDN Transit projected a $2.1 million loss for the year and according to the report, the decreased number of riders could account for “approximately 37 per cent of the projected conventional transit revenue loss, compared to budgeted revenue for 2020.” However, with the federal and provincial governments set to dole out $86 million in Safe Restart Funds to B.C. Transit systems, losses could be balanced out, the report said.
Erica Beauchamp, RDN superintendent of transit planning and scheduling, said it hasn’t yet been decided how that money will be distributed.
“We haven’t been informed of even how much we will be getting, but it’s anticipated that after the election blackout period has ended, and the election results are finalized, that we’ll start hearing about how those funds will be distributed,” said Beauchamp.
“Overall, because of some of the decisions we made early on, we’re in an OK shape financially even with the loss of fares, but with that said, the bailout money will really help make sure that we’re maintaining our operations and we have that cushion if we need it,” said Tyler Brown, RDN Nanaimo director and transit select committee chairperson.
Brown said he’s optimistic that ridership numbers will bounce back.
“I think people had a lot of worries and our transit team really responded well,” said Brown. “From management to the drivers, to everybody working on the buses to put in protections in place; we had such a robust cleaning process. I’m confident that those measures are giving people confidence in the system and hopefully … we’ll see ridership return to levels we’re more used to.”
September traditionally sees a ridership spike, with an influx of students headed back to Nanaimo-Ladysmith district high schools and Vancouver Island University, said the report. However, September’s ridership was at 56 per cent when compared to September 2019, when the monthly ridership was more than 300,000.