Reduced ridership due to COVID or not, the HSR is asking Council to allow it to make some significant service improvements. In the two months just before COVID hit the community HSR Revenue and ridership was trending ahead of budget. Revenue was up by almost 6percent and ridership was up by just under five percent. By the end of the year, however both revenue and ridership were down by 50 percent. Federal and provincial emergency funding covered most of those revenue losses. The HSR is recommending that the fifth year of the HSR ten year strategic plan be implemented after being paused for a year. The $4.2 Million plan would see the purchase of 13 additional buses, hiring 35 full time positions. These additions would provide 46,000 additional service hours. The proposed budget for 2021 will be nearly $81 Million—a 3.4 percent increase. HSR has implemented the PRESTO fare card system which will save the organization $556,000 on the phasing out of paper tickets and transfers.
The plan would see significant improvements in service on Hamilton mountain and in Waterdown. The Rymal bus would see increased frequency, as would the north-south A Line. There would also be enhancements to the four routes that serve Stoney Creek Mountain—the Stone Church, Rymal, Upper Kenilworth and Parkdale routes. The roues will be changed to improve connectivity.
On Demand service in Waterdown
The HSR is recommending an on-demand service pilot project for Waterdown. This would see partnerships with ride sharing services like UBER supported by an APP that would be available to drivers and potential users. Staff are recommending that the on-demand pilot be in place by September.
Councillor Brenda Johnson wanted to know if something similar could be put in place for Mount Hope. Staff noted there have been improvements to the A Line which serves the airport, and that it will take time to build up ridership. Johnson wanted to dispel the notion that removing Area Rating for Transit will not amount in immediate improvements to service.
The DARTS transit system also underwent significant ridership decreases due to COVID from forecast ridership to 885,ooo rides to 327,450 actual, as a result the service spend $10 Million less than its budgeted $24 Million.