With public transit ridership down and the City of Windsor warning further service cuts could be coming — some worry about how this might affect the city's most vulnerable.
"It's going to hurt people that really need it," said Lorraine Goddard, the CEO of the local United Way branch.
Many vulnerable people have already lost their jobs, Goddard explained, and those who still have their jobs rely on transit to get to work. She said they also rely on it to get to medical appointments and for picking up their groceries.
"Not having that presents ... undo hardship on people who are already really struggling in many other ways that I think many of us don't even realize."
Many riders are students and essential workers, she explained, adding that while they say fares are high and services are unreliable, public transit is a fundamental need which offers self-sufficiency to those without a vehicle.
"It's really important that as a community we put pressure on all levels of government to support this," she said.
"I hope that we find a solution. I hope that transit is protected."
Ridership dramatically down
The city reported earlier this week that current ridership is down 85 per cent compared to pre-pandemic figures from last year. The city said public transit is facing financial struggles to maintain current operations, even with an already-reduced service, and that more service cuts are possible, unless the federal and provincial governments provide more funding.
Mayor Drew Dilkens was criticized for suspending services at the start of the pandemic last year. When asked by CBC if he thinks ridership has dropped as a result of that initial shut down, the mayor said, "No, not at all."
"I think if you look at what's happening at other transit systems across the country that continue to operate, we are all down by between 80 and 90 per cent," Dilkens said.
Coun. Kieran McKenzie says the low ridership levels were to be expected given the pandemic and having just come out of a lock down.
"It's no surprise that the ridership numbers for Transit Windsor are at the lowest that they've been throughout the entire course of the pandemic," he said adding that he expects to see a steady increase moving forward provided the region continues to progress positively in the pandemic.
As for whether the dip in ridership is related to the shut down in services last year, McKenzie said that while he disagreed with the suspension of services at the start of the pandemic, he says ridership numbers are a direct consequence of the pandemic.
McKenzie said he understands that many are frustrated with the already-reduced services, and he hopes to restore some faith moving forward.
He explained that part of the conversation that will be had next week with respect to the City's budget will be around whether or not the service will add a "critical route" — called Route 18 — that would connect riders from East Windsor to St. Clair College.
"It's going to be vital that we do implement that route. There's no disagreement with respect to that, it's just now the discussion will be around timeline for implementation," he said.
City council is meeting on Monday to discuss the proposed budget and the future of Transit Windsor.