B.C.’s COVID-19 public transit crunch is being felt all over the province, not only in Metro Vancouver where TransLink is laying off nearly 1,500 people, Premier John Horgan says.
Horgan told reporters in Victoria April 20 he raised the issue of collapsing transit ridership in his conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers last week, because it is beyond the province’s ability to keep full transit going in the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve seen an 83 per cent decline in ridership over the past number of weeks with respect to TransLink, a 75 per cent reduction in ridership for B.C. Transit in Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Prince George and other B.C. Transit communities, and a 91 per cent reduction in passengers on B.C. Ferries,” Horgan said. “We can’t sustain an 83 per cent reduction in ridership. That’s just not going to work.”
Horgan said if Ottawa’s wage subsidy program can fund a return to work for private sector transportation such as airlines, consideration should be given to public transportation systems that depend on fare box revenue and provincial and municipal grants to operate.
Bus fare collection has been stopped so the few passengers using the transit system can board at the back of a bus and maintain physical distance from drivers and other passengers.
Among those passengers are health care and other essential workers who need to get back and forth to work. Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union, said as many as one in five health care workers depends on transit.
“Our members have limited transportation options to get to work, and they’ve already been facing lengthier commuting times as a result of previously announced service reductions,” Whiteside said.