Bumpy ride for Barrie Transit as pre-COVID ridership not expected until at least 2022

Federal-provincial restart funding still leaves transit system in the hole

The wheels have not come off at Barrie Transit, but a report to City Council warns the reintroduction of full transit service comes with a significant financial risk to the City without a firm funding commitment from other levels of government.

The report by Brent Forsyth, Director of Transit and Parking Strategy, said the City received $2.5 million in Phase 1 of the federal-provincial Safe Restart Funding Program, to cover lost revenue and additional expenditures between April and September 2020. This still leaves Barrie Transit with a million dollar shortfall. The report said lost revenue from rear door boarding and suspension of transit fares was estimated to be about $500,000 per month from April to July, and approximately $300,000 per month in August and September.

Barrie Transit returned to collecting fares at the start of last month.

Ridership is about 40 per cent of what it was prior to the pandemic and was as low as 25 per cent in the early period of COVID-19. To stem the bleeding at the outset of the pandemic, Barrie Transit cut service hours to about 65 per cent of its regular service levels. The reduction allowed for hourly service to continue on all routes.

Barrie Transit does not expect ridership and revenue to return to pre-COVID levels until 2022/2023. Some of the reasons indicated in the report are:

  • Remote learning at Georgian College, where students account for 35-40% of the systems total ridership
  • Residents are finding alternative modes of transportation, either due to the reduced levels transit services causing longer travel times, or general concern of personal safety.

Phase 2 of the province’s Restart program is run from October to March 2021, but there is no guarantee Barrie Transit will get more funding. There is a process in place that the City of Barrie is required to follow in order to be eligible for additional dollars. The report indicates there is no further funding support beyond next March to assist municipalities with the expected continued shortfall in transit revenues.

Staff wants to increase transit service on September 27 to about 85 per cent of pre-COVID levels, which would maintain hourly service on all routes, with 30 minute frequency at peak times on core routes.

Without more funding next spring, the report said further service level adjustments will need to be considered as part of the 2021 budget, or sooner, as staff learn more about the Phase 2 of the program.