Pandemic relief funding has come in to aid the city’s transit system, which lost $1.8 million in revenues last year as a result of decreased ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Transit is up for discussion on Tuesday, during city council’s first regular meeting of 2021. The transit system is currently operating at a reduced schedule, equivalent to the city’s regular spring/summer schedule.
City of Kamloops transportation engineer, Purvez Irani, told KTW ridership is currently about half of what it was during the same time, pre-pandemic. Overall in 2020, the city saw ridership levels drop by between 45 per cent and 65 per cent, with the numbers fluctuating throughout that year.
Social distancing rules, loss of public confidence in the safety of public transportation, more people working from home and Thompson Rivers University students taking online courses were cited among reasons for decreased ridership.
Meanwhile, reduced ridership means reduced revenues, which come by the way of passenger fares. Irani said the city’s transit system lost $1.8 million in revenues between January and December of 2020. The city had projected $3.7 million in revenues. However, it collected $1.9 million, due to the pandemic’s impacts and reduced ridership.
Irani said negative impacts on transit resulting from the pandemic is not a situation unique to Kamloops.
“Not only Kamloops, but cities across B.C. have seen a drop in ridership because of COVID,” he said.
Last year, BC Transit provided the city with $1-million in funding to help offset losses, via a so-called “lease holiday” on buses. Irani said the federal and provincial governments are now also providing funds to offset operating costs in order to maintain service levels to pre-COVID-19 levels.
According to a city report, the governments committed to provide joint contributions in support of transit services. The funding is independent of funding that went directly to municipalities to offset other revenue shortfalls in municipal budgets resulting from the pandemic.
On Tuesday, city staff will present a report on the city’s 2020-2021 operating agreement with BC Transit. Budget talks last year were delayed in order to understand impacts of the pandemic on ridership.
Irani said staff will request council to authorize federal restart funding to the tune of more than $4.3 million. Part of that will go toward offsetting the remaining transit revenue deficit from last year, with the remainder of the funds to be spread over coming years.
Overall, the city’s conventional transit system is expected to receive $4.1 million in funding and the city’s custom transit system will receive $247,000. A planned transit expansion was also deferred to this year. Irani said those talks are expected to go before council in the springtime. A report on last year’s proposed transit expansion is among supplemental budget items currently being mulled by city council. As for whether or not ridership will automatically rebound once people are vaccinated against the virus in 2021, Kamloops councillor Mike O’Reilly told KTW many variables remain unknown.
“We can’t make any long-term decisions at this point, it’s very difficult,” he said.