Transportation

With university students taking classes online this fall, ridership will fall on Central Okanagan's transit system below levels normally seen in a September. As a result, hours of service are being cut.

Public transit in the Central Okanagan will be cut by nearly 10,000 hours this fall from a normal autumn service level.

The reduction is planned because of expected lower ridership caused by the ongoing effects of COVID-19.

For example, UBC Okanagan will be holding its classes online, and a report to city council on Monday stated there was the "possibility of reduced or limited in-person classes for middle school and high school students" this September.

Ridership on transit buses across the greater Kelowna area had been trending up before the onset of the pandemic earlier this year, reaching an annualized rate of nearly six million trips.

However, ridership plunged 70 per cent in early April compared to the same month last year as schools and many businesses closed, and many people began working from home.

Service levels were scaled back to reflect the loss of demand, collection of fares was suspended, and back-door boarding was implemented to lessen the chance of the virus being spread from passengers to bus drivers.

With capacity on buses reduced to comply with physical distancing regulations, some would-be passengers were left standing at bus stops.

By early July, with COVID-19 restrictions easing, ridership had recovered to 60 per cent of the level seen early last summer. Capacity is now back to near normal levels on full-size buses, but it remains at 50 per cent on smaller transit vehicles.

Normally, transit service levels would expand in the fall, but that won't happen this autumn.

"Fall passenger volumes are expected to remain well below levels typically observed that time of year, primarily as a result of UBCO's move to online course delivery and the resulting reduction in demand for transit among students," reads part of a staff report presented to Kelowna city council on Monday.

"Wearing of face coverings is being encouraged on buses and at bus stops where physical distancing is not possible," the report adds. "The installation of permanent full driver doors has also been accelerated to ensure operators and customers are protected."