Coronavirus: Toronto-area transit ridership and revenue in steep decline during pandemic

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TORONTO — Ridership on two of Ontario’s largest transit agencies is down between 80 and 90 per cent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a situation that mirrors the experience of many local services said the association representing them on Monday.

Both GO Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission said Monday that their ridership is down dramatically as people work from home or self-isolate during the pandemic.

Ridership on GO Transit, in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, has dropped to approximately 33,000 people per day, a 90 per cent decrease.

The TTC said Monday it has seen an 80 per cent decline, with 10 million daily riders dropping to 2 million.

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Marco D’Angelo, CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Association said that transit providers across the country are seeing similar drops in ridership even as their roles become increasingly more important.

“Looking across Canada, transit operators are facing an impossible choice,” he said. “Do they dramatically cut service as ridership plunges the numbers would justify that. Nonetheless, across Canada we’re carrying … people who are the lifeline during this crisis.”

The association is asking for $400 million a month in federal aid during the pandemic to keep services running as farebox and other revenue drop.

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D’Angelo said the association is currently in discussions with the federal government but has not yet received a firm commitment on a financial package to bolster service.

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“They’ve been dealing with every sector of the economy,” he said. “The lines of communication have been constantly open which has been good, a reason for optimism.”

The federal government did not immediately provide comment.

Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said GO Transit has scaled back service several times as ridership has fallen but trains and buses continued to run reduced hours.

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“Most of the people taking GO are people working on the front lines,” she said. “People working in hospitals, they’re in the food service industry, first responders like police and fire. Those are the people taking transit.”

Aikins said system ridership had been dropping steadily since the World Health Organization declared the global pandemic on March 11.

Revenue has also plunged for the agency, down to $1.1 million a week from $11 million weekly prior to the pandemic.

Aikins said the agency has reduced service levels several times over the course of the pandemic to strike a balance of providing essential transportation to workers but attempt to keep their staff safe.

“This wasn’t about reducing jobs,” she said. “This was about reducing exposure.”

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A spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission said Monday that revenues are also down for that system, from $24 million a week to approximately $4.5 million to $5 million a week currently.

“Our focus is on continuing to keep the city moving,” spokesman Stuart Green said in a statement. “Not only because there are still hundreds of thousands of people using our system every day to get to their important jobs, medical appointments and to pick up essential goods and supplies.”

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