Coronavirus: OC Transpo will require Ottawa bus, LRT riders to wear masks starting June 15

Yellow caution tape separates the driver's cab and the accessible seating area on an OC Transpo bus from the rear area of the vehicle. The transit agency will remove the tape but ask riders to wear masks when service is gradually restored starting in June. Crystal Oag / Global News

OC Transpo unveiled a plan Thursday to restore its transit service to levels seen before the novel coronavirus pandemic began, but the lingering threat of the virus in the community will change the way riders take the bus or light-rail trains in Ottawa.

The local transit agency has reduced its operations to 60 per cent of traditional levels in recent weeks as ridership plummeted as much as 85 per cent due to job losses and work-from-home orders.

Based on advice from Ottawa Public Health (OPH), buses and trains that were still running were partitioned to separate drivers from passengers, with riders asked to board from the rear of the bus.

Click to play video: 'Montreal, Laval public transit agencies hand out free masks amid coronavirus pandemic' Montreal, Laval public transit agencies hand out free masks amid coronavirus pandemic
Montreal, Laval public transit agencies hand out free masks amid coronavirus pandemic – May 25, 2020

According to OC Transpo’s service restoration plan, it’s not possible to both maintain physical distancing measures and return to full service levels — the transit agency would need to operate four to six times as many trains and two to three times as many buses as are currently in its fleet.

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As such, the agency crafted a plan with OPH to protect staff and transit users as much as possible while returning transit to the levels required as the economy reopens.

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Transit chair Allan Hubley tweeted Thursday afternoon that front-door boarding will return, though driver cabs will be separated by barriers to protect operators.

READ MORE: Ottawa LRT set to close from May 31 to June 3, more summer closures planned

As of June 15, it will be mandatory for all passengers to wear masks in transit stations and on OC Transpo buses, the Confederation Line LRT and other specially contracted transit services such as Para Transpo.

OC Transpo’s current service plan will continue until June 27, after which the transit agency will switch to a summer schedule that will see all routes reinstated, save for school service, with service reaching about 95 per cent of traditional levels.

The summer plan will continue up until Aug. 30, at which point a fall schedule will roll out with “service frequencies … similar to pre-COVID-19 service on most routes,” according to Hubley.

The end of August aligns with the deadline Ottawa’s transit boss John Manconi gave to Rideau Transit Group to fix ongoing issues with the city’s LRT line. The consortium tasked with maintaining LRT in Ottawa is expected to shut down the Confederation Line at various points over the summer to conduct additional repairs.

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School service is also set to resume as of Aug. 31, depending on Ontario’s timelines for starting the new school year.

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