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Metrobus ridership in St. John's region down 85 per cent during pandemic

The decline in riders means an increase in the city subsidy to Metrobus by $243,810 this quarter, bringing the subsidy to just over $3.5-million. -TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO
The decline in riders means an increase in the city subsidy to Metrobus by $243,810 this quarter, bringing the subsidy to just over $3.5-million. -TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO

‘Extremely unique and challenging’ year so far for public transit metro area

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

St. John's Transportation Commission chair Coun. Ian Froude described the first quarter of 2020 as “extremely unique and challenging” at Metrobus.

Froude provided an update on the situation at Metrobus during Wednesday morning’s committee of the whole meeting of city council.

The January snowstorm briefly brought buses to a halt, but the COVID-19 pandemic has had the most drastic effect on ridership, decreasing the number of bus passengers by 80 to 85 per cent.

The decline in riders means an increase in the city subsidy to Metrobus by $243,810 this quarter, bringing the subsidy to just over $3.5 million so far this year.


 


It’s a blow to the St. John’s Transportation Commission as it’s worked to increase ridership over the past year — and it was increasing until the pandemic hit.

Froude said there was significant growth in ridership in 2019 by roughly 10.5 per cent, which brought in $502,082 more in fare revenue than budgeted (fare revenue was expected to be roughly $5.6 million, but it turned out to be $6.1 million).

Coun. Hope Jamieson, who is also a council representative on the commission, said 2019 was a success, and she hopes the trend will continue once the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Froude noted that in the weeks between the January blizzard and the onset of the pandemic, ridership increased by roughly eight to nine per cent “even through the deep months of winter.”

But with Memorial University switching to virtual classes for many programs this fall, Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary wondered what further impact that will have on Metrobus.

Coun. Ian Froude. - SaltWire Network File Photo
Coun. Ian Froude. - SaltWire Network File Photo

Froude said students make up 25 to 30 per cent of riders, so there will be an impact system-wide. Transit schedules to educational institutions have already been tweaked since the pandemic began.

The nosedive in public transit usage during the pandemic is not unique to St. John’s. Froude said this situation is comparable across the country, and he hopes the city will receive federal assistance to maintain public transit. He said there is a segment of the population that has continued to use the service throughout the pandemic, and relies upon it for transportation.

Mayor Danny Breen said federal politicians have not yet answered questions on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ $10-billion request for funding to address municipal challenges during the pandemic, with public transportation woes numbering among those challenges.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_


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