Transit ridership is down in a covid-19 infused world in Nelson but not nearly as drastic as most areas of the province, noted a BC Transit official.
Chelsea Mossey, government relations manager for BC Transit, said transit ridership in the Heritage city has dropped by 47 per cent compared to this time last year.
However, that pales in comparison to the 60 to 80 per cent drop in ridership in most transit systems in B.C., she told city council recently during its committee-of-the-whole meeting.
That figure for Nelson is expected to improve, despite there being social distancing protocols in place, she said.
“Certainly we are starting to see some recoveries in ridership … so what we are starting to see are some very full buses,” Mossey said. “We are continuing on with many of the measures that were implemented during the response phase, as well as adding in a few others, including a recovery plan.”
Prior to the pandemic, passenger hours had shown as increase year over year and it was well above the tier (provincial) average.
Passengers per hour had risen from 26.8 five years ago to 31.87 last year, well above the provincial average of 18.86. The same could be said for operating costs per passenger, where costs dropped from $4.16 to $3.78 over the five-year span, compared to the provincial average of $8.33.
Operating cost recovery has stayed relatively steady at 31.99 per cent, with the provincial average at 19.75 per cent.
When the pandemic descended in mid-March, BC Transit instituted several protocols right away, including enhanced cleaning on buses, rear door loading for passengers and not collecting fares until March 31.
A limit was also set on the amount of passengers allowed on buses to support social distancing. Vinyl barriers were instituted on buses where rear door entrance was not possible.
The next phase — recovery — includes a capacity management (40 to 60 per cent capacity, from June –September) and the recommended use of face coverings.
BC Transit would resume front door loading and fare collection, along with installation of vinyl barriers and full driver doors.
Even now, as people return to riding transit, Mossey strongly suggested wearing facemasks. Front boarding has resumed but transit has put up barriers on the full size conventional buses.
Right now access to the bus service is at 40 per cent capacity on full size conventional buses, aiming for September when the goal is approximately two thirds capacity, said Mossey.
“And that (capacity) will be determined by how we are doing in our covid-19 cases province wide and working with the provincial health officer,” she related.
Coun. Jesse Woodward wondered how the recovery would fare in Nelson and across the province.
“In other areas of the transit system in B.C. have you seen uptake come back, or have you seen it drop and then not come back?” he asked.
“(Recovery) is certainly community specific … for some of our more rural communities where covid-19 has not impacted them quite as severe we are seeing a stronger increase in ridership,” she explained.
In some cases it is becoming an issue because ridership is only at 40 per cent capacity, but it needs to remain at 40 per cent capacity to allow for physical distancing, Mossey added.
Getting an earful
The number one priority raised by Nelsonites during a recent survey was to increase bus size and add more capacity on the 98/99 corridor.
“However, we are aware that the covid-19 pandemic could shift some of the priorities for the region and so our planning team is looking to add in an appendix to this … to discover the impacts of covid-19,” said Mossey.
— Source: BC Transit
West Kootenay Transit System, by the numbers
- West Kootenay Transit System began July 2, 2013; brought three local governments and nine transit systems together into one.
- Nelson Transit: 12,000 annual revenue hours; 390,500 passenger trips annually with six conventional buses.
— Source: BC Transit
Transit future service plan
- TF service plan for Kootenay Lake West, City of Nelson and Castlegar and area currently being completed;
- Will inform future expansion priorities;
- 2019 public engagement findings;
Priority one: increase bus size and add more service on 98/99 corridor;
- TFSP will inform future expansions in transit system;
- A covid-19 appendix will be added.
— Source: BC Transit