(Vince Robinet/CBC - image credit)
Transit Windsor is warning that the ongoing steep drop in riders during the pandemic means possible further cuts to an already reduced service.
In a news release Wednesday, the city said current ridership has reduced by 85 per cent compared to pre-pandemic figures from last year. The city said public transit is facing financial struggles to maintain current operations and services will be at risk unless the federal and provincial government provides more funding.
The threats of further service reductions don't come as a surprise to public transit rider JC Bitonti.
They said transit hasn't been taken seriously throughout the pandemic and that many have lost faith in the service after the city shut down service last year.
"It's just frustrating to me to hear them reflect on that as if it's new," Bitonti said.
"[Riders have] known that transit has been at risk since it was shut down in May. It's still not considered an essential service because the mayor still has that power to to just shut it down if he wants to."
"It's not being prioritized. So, of course, ridership is down because it's not a reliable service. If something can just be taken away from you at any moment, are you going to trust it? Probably not."
Often times, people wait up to 40 minutes for a bus to show up, Bitonti said, adding that unreasonably high fares have reduced ridership even further.
"What I do know is that it's the dead of winter and there's still people waiting curbside to get to their doctor's appointments and to get to grocery stores. And they're just standing out there waiting for 20 to 30 or 40 minutes, sometimes waiting for a bus that they don't know when it's going to come because of this schedule that is not reliable," they said.
Service unreliable, fares high
The city's 2021 proposed budget estimates that it needs $21.1 million " to off-set the decline in ridership, lower fares, and higher costs related to personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning," according to the statement.
The city said that Transit Windsor has been allocated more than $19 million in funding to support continued operations until the end of March, but "without additional pandemic-related operating support to cover the balance of 2021 pressures due to COVID, the City of Windsor may have to review ongoing transit operations and schedules."
"Unreasonable fares drive away riders," Bitonti said. "Then ridership plummets and the city loses money. It's another cyclical problem that we suffer from."
They said public transit is necessary for those who don't have access to a vehicle or other means of transportation, adding that it offers independence to those who would otherwise rely on others to help them get around the city.
They urge the city to prioritize the service, but find the recent statement discouraging.
"We've continued to operate the transit system at a significant loss. So far this year, we are averaging only 14 per cent ridership load as compared to this time last year, pre-pandemic," Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said in a news release.
"To help fund the continued operations at Transit Windsor, the annual operating subsidy has increased by 40%, and this is simply not sustainable. The federal and provincial governments need to come to the table with operating funding for 2021, the same as they did last year."
Health measures remain in place
In the statement, the city reminds riders that masks are required when riding the bus and that there are capacity limits to allow for physical distancing.
People are discouraged from using the service if they're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and services should only be used for essential trips.
According to the statement, Transit Windsor will continue to operate on an enhanced Saturday service schedule Monday through Saturday and Sunday service will continue on the Sunday schedule.
Additional service will be added if ridership increases.