Transit ridership appears to be slowly rising in Kamloops, but there is work to be done to get back to pre-pandemic numbers.
City of Kamloops engineering manager Deven Matkowski told KTW the latest transit ridership numbers show a 40 per cent drop from last year. It is an improvement since earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, though a significant gap persists.
The issue is not unique to Kamloops as transit usage is down across the country with more people staying at and working from home to help curb spread of the novel coronavirus.
It’s an issue that has been raised by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as, Matkowski noted, B.C.’s model through BC Transit is that 100 per cent of fare revenue goes to municipalities. Fewer rides means a hit to the city’s pocketbook.
“It impacts revenues,” Matkowski said. “Because how transit is funded is by collecting fares. We’re still providing the same service, the same number of hours, the same number of drivers, the same cost. But we’re bringing in less money to offset the cost.”
At the outset of the pandemic, the city anticipated a $1.4-million blow to revenue through September as a result of reduced fares.
“Trying to recover ridership is the big-picture solution,” Matkowski said.
A major issue continues to be an inability to pack buses. Fewer people are allowed on buses due to physical-distancing requirements. People in need of a ride are left on the curb when buses are too full. Matkowski said the city needs to be flexible and adapt to where rides are in highest demand.
In addition, usage has changed. Before the pandemic, peak ridership was in mornings and afternoons as residents commuted to work, university and school. More passengers have been noted in the afternoons during the pandemic.
In order to be more flexible, the city is looking at moving scheduling online. Matkowski said switching to a digital scheduling system would provide greater flexibility with respect to service tweaks. It takes months to publish a print-based rider’s guide, limiting flexibility and impacting the ability to adapt to changes. In addition, paper guides are often used once, then discarded.
Commitee weighs in with transit recommendations
During the city’s development and sustainability committee meeting on June 22, councillors cautioned about eliminating the paper guide entirely. Committee chair Arjun Singh said he is concerned about accessibility for people with poor internet connections or old cellphone technology and suggested scheduling boards at transit stops. Schedules are not currently posted at all stops in the city.
The committee also voted to suspend free transit on Canada Day this year, to be resumed on 2021, due to the pandemic-related cancellation of festivities in Riverside Park. In addition, the committee agreed to add free transit service for referendums and mass events that have fees, such as Boogie the Bridge (the current requirement for free transit service for large events is that the events do not charge a fee).
Discussion at the meeting also veered toward inequity in the service, with Sadie Hunter wondering if free transit service for such events should not also be available for those who use Handydart and taxi vouchers.
“I really struggle, I guess, with having two different streams in terms of what is available to access community events,” she said, noting she wants the issue to be top of mind in the future, to create wider accessibility to elections, Canada Day and other events.
The committee’s recommendations still need to be approved by Kamloops council.