Riders have been slow in returning to the West Coast Express during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Special to The News)

Riders slow in returning to West Coast Express

TransLink bus ridership at 43 per cent of pre-COVID levels

Transit users are slow in returning to their pre-COVID ridership levels – particularly riders of the West Coast Express.

The commuter train is still just at just 17 per cent of its pre-pandemic ridership, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond reported to the board at a virtual meeting on Monday.

“Perhaps not surprising given the market that the WCE service provides for. These are probably a lot of people who can very easily work from home, and will continue to work from home, we expect for the time being,” said Desmond.

Overall, he reported ridership return is at 43 per cent of pre-covid levels on buses, which is the most often used form of transit. The Expo-Millennium Line is at 38 per cent, Canada Line 31 per cent, Seabus 27 per cent, and HandyDART 35 per cent.

Bus ridership recovery has varied across the region, and is at 55 per cent in Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge, 51 per cent the Southeast region (Surrey/Langley), 37 per cent in the Northeast (Coquitlam), 42 per cent in the Southwest (Richmond), 37 per cent Burnaby/New Westminster, 39 per cent in Vancouver and 44 per cent in the North Shore.

Desmond said the transit authority is focused on building back ridership, and restoring “basically full service” across the system. Because of the need for physical distancing, it is operating at two-thirds of capacity on buses and half capacity on SkyTrain and SeaBus. Compared with other cities around the world, TransLink is in the middle of the pack, in terms of return of transit ridership during COVID-19, said Desmond.

Ridership return is important to the organization’s finances, accounting for 58 per cent of operating revenues.

TransLink is looking at losses of between $2 billion and $4.5 billion over the next decade, the board heard. There is a commitment of $644 million from provincial and federal governments for TransLink’s 2020-2021 fiscal year.

TransLink has launched a fall ridership campaign, with messaging including “Be kind, be calm, be safe,” quoting Dr. Bonnie Henry. It is emphasizing mandatory masks, social distancing, daily cleaning and sanitizing stations.

READ ALSO: Masks now mandatory on public transit, ferries in B.C.

Mask wearing has been made mandatory, and TransLink is seeing 92-95 per cent compliance, Desmond said.

Traffic on bridges TransLink operates is up to 93 per cent of pre-covid levels, which he said is concerning.

“If traffic comes back a lot faster than transit, so will congestion, so we need to keep monitoring that.”



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