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Coronavirus: Ottawa LRT service reduced as OC Transpo ridership tanks with social distancing

Ottawa transit users could soon be seeing third-party ads in light-rail transit stations and trains. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

Ottawa’s LRT system began operating a reduced service on Friday, one of several changes the city’s public transit agency is implementing as ridership tanks during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Starting March 27, trains on the east-west Confederation Line will arrive less frequently: every six to eight minutes during peak travel periods and every 10 to 16 minutes at all other times on weekdays and weekends.

READ MORE: University of Ottawa cancels spring convocation ceremony amid coronavirus pandemic

On top of that, the end time for Friday service is getting cut back an hour. Normally, the light-rail train runs until 2 a.m. on Saturday; now, it will only run until 1 a.m. Apart from that, the start and end times for daily train service will remain the same.

With the changes to LRT service, OC Transpo is also scaling back the number of vehicles in its dedicated replacement bus fleet — used when train service is disrupted — and the number of red-vested O-Train staff members stationed along the line.

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The changes come after OC Transpo boss John Manconi reported earlier this week that ridership levels across the bus, train and Para Transpo networks have dropped between 70 and 90 per cent as residents follow officials’ orders to stay home and limit their outings to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

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“Maintaining service to all neighbourhoods and to essential services, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and hospitals, at levels that will still allow customers to safely space themselves out on trains and buses and maintain social distancing continues to be a priority,” Manconi wrote in a memo to members of Ottawa city council and the city’s transit commission.

“With reduced ridership and COVID-19 potential impacts to the workforce, an adjustment to our multi-modal transit system is required to sustain and continue to provide the service while at the same time ensuring levels of service that enable social distancing.”

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As for the north-south Trillium Line, trains will arrive every 15 minutes at all times. There is no change to its service start and end times.

Changes to bus service start Monday

OC Transpo is also moving “many” bus routes to Saturday service levels on weekdays, starting Monday, March 30.

In addition, many routes that normally only operate on weekdays will keep running but at “modified service levels.” The first trip in the morning on many routes, for example, will be later than usual, according to OC Transpo.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for bus service on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Bus service “will continue to be provided in all neighbourhoods,” and complete bus schedules and route changes will be available on OC Transpo’s website, according to Manconi’s memo.

On Para Transpo, the public transit agency says most trips are completed with only one customer on board in order to allow for physical distancing, as urged by health officials.

Para Transpo service levels “are being managed according to demand,” Manconi said.

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OC Transpo may adjust its service plan as the COVID-19 situation evolves, he added.

Customers who purchase a monthly Presto pass have up until 11:59 p.m. on Friday to cancel their auto-renewal for April.

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