Metrolinx says it is making some service adjustments to respond to plummeting ridership numbers amid a stay-at-home order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In a statement Thursday, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney’s office said ridership on GO Transit and UP Express has dropped off by more than 90 per cent because of the pandemic.
A stay-at-home order came into effect for Ontario on Jan. 14, two days after a new state of emergency was declared due to soaring rates of COVID-19.
The service changes will come into effect on Jan. 23.
Buses will replace trains along the Barrie, Stouffville and Kitchener lines on weekday evenings and on weekend periods.
Service will also be reduced for UP Express during non-peak times. Service hours will be reduced and trains will run hourly during less busy times.
Between Monday and Friday, UP trains will run hourly in the midday and late evening hours, with the last trains departing Union Station at 10 p.m. and from Pearson at 10:27 p.m.
On weekends, UP trains will operate hourly in the mornings and evenings, with the first train departing at 6 a.m. and the last trains departing from Union at 10 p.m. and from Pearson at 10:27 p.m.
In an email to CP24.com, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne-Marie Aikins said the agency doesn’t believe crowding will be a problem, but they have taken measures to make sure that there is proper distancing.
“Ridership is below 10 per cent so we expect there will be plenty of room for customers. However we are closely monitoring,” Aikins said.
She said the agency will be checking in with drivers, station staff and CCTV live feeds to ensure there are no crowds and that additional buses and drivers will be on standby in case they need to be deployed to accommodate extra riders.
“We have also put barriers between seats on buses and trains so that also helps protect customers and we have good compliance with wearing of masks,” Aikins said.
She said the drop in ridership does not come as a surprise and is the result of people heeding the orders.
“We’ve been asking customers since before the holidays to stay home except for essential travel only,” Aikins said. “We don’t require special documentation but frankly we know people are staying at home. Many of our coaches are empty. Our goal is to keep both our staff and our customers safe. And we’re confident when it is safe customers will come back.”
Aikins said service did increase in the summer and fall when COVID cases were relatively low, with buses reaching around 40 per cent of capacity.
“We did see in the summer and late summer and then the early fall, that our ridership was starting to come back. People were going back to work, some people were going into work even half time, some people were going back to school. So we were seeing an uptick.”
However ridership declined again in late fall and then dipped even lower around the holidays.
Aikins said Metrolinx has to maintain some service so that essential workers can continue to get around.
“We've made sure that we haven't eliminated any service, we've replaced some services with buses, so they'll always be able to get to where they're going,” she said. “But we're monitoring it (possible crowding) really closely.”
In a statement, NDP Transportation Critic Jessica Bell to aim at the Ford government for reducing service.
“Our essential workers who can’t work from home, including health care workers, PSWS and first responders, rely on public transit. They are going to work to help our province get through this crisis, and we need to do everything possible to keep them safe and prevent the virus spreading in our communities,” Bell said.
She called on Premier Doug Ford to maintain GO Transit at current service levels to ensure there is no crowding.