A staff report on the Impacts of COVID on HSR revenues paints a grim picture. This were actually going quite well in the first couple of months of 2020, The city had invested in additional service hours and the result was a 5 percent increase in ridership. That all ended with the arrival of COVID when ridership and revenue were sharply curtailed. With COVID showing no signs of ending soon, the HSR report says the transit agency could end up losing between $12 Million and $20Million in 2021.
The staff report notes that all indications point to the COVID-19 pandemic continuing into 2021 with an optimistic view of a vaccine being available in the summer. Therefore, restrictions will continue to remain in place with respect to how many people are permitted to gather and how many are allowed in a social bubble. A drop off in the vital school component of HSR ridership will be a big factor in revenue projections. While elementary and secondary schools will be returning to in person learning at the start of the fall school term on augmented schedules, Colleges and Universities are opting for primarily distance learning. At the time of writing this report restrictions impacting tourism, concerts, festivals and professional sports remain in effect. Should alternative delivery of education, working from home, and Public Health restrictions remain in place into 2021, they will have an impact on 2021 ridership.
The DARTS picture has been similarly affected. With travel limited to essential trips only, shelter in place orders, and day programs being suspended, subscription and overall trips on specialized transit fell to 10% of normal levels during the early stages of the pandemic. While demand for specialized trips has returned to 30% of normal levels, it is anticipated that DARTS ridership will remain low over the coming months as many of the programs attended by customers who travel using the service are currently not operating or are operating at a reduced capacity. The report suggests that DARTS will deliver only 37% of the 885,000 trips forecasted in the 2020 budget. Unlike conventional transit, reduced demand for specialized transit would actually results in cash savings because of the high level of subsidization for DARTS rides.
The report recommends that notwithstanding the impact that COVID has had on transit, staff are urging council to continue to support the 10-year transit enhancement plan. In particular the need for an additional storage facility for buses. The current facility at 2200 Upper James Street has a storage capacity of 200 buses. With HSR now operating 267 buses; this facility is now operating well beyond its design capacity with 67 buses being stored outside. A second Maintenance and Storage Facility has been recommended for ICIP funding by the Province.
The Transportation Master Plan (TMP) updated in 2015 has a target of 12% modal split for Transit to be achieved by 2031, at which time the City’s population is expected to reach 660,000. Transit’s current modal split based on the 2016 Transportation Tomorrow Survey is 7%.