Ridership rises along with COVID-19 concerns as students crowd LTC buses to campus

Just days into the school year, Western University students report crowded conditions on several bus routes.

London Transit tells CTV News that overall ridership has risen 55 per cent compared to late August, but pandemic-related delays training new drivers has limited the ability to add more buses and ease crowding.

“There’s a lot more students on campus this year compared to last year, so buses will be more crowded due to all the students,” observes fourth-year student Melissa Soukaris.

It’s not the sardine can conditions experienced in past years, but outside Alumni Hall students disembark from buses where they stood shoulder to shoulder.

Since experiencing a crowded bus earlier in the week, third-year student Seyed Taba started adjusting his travel patterns based on real-time bus occupancy data, “On the LT app you can see if the bus is crowded or not, so if you don’t want to go, you can make an alternative plan.”

London Transit is aware of the concerns related to COVID-19.

“We’re doing the best we can. We’re operating at only about 90 per cent of the service level we would normally have in place,” explains General Manager Kelly Paleczny.

Pandemic-related indoor gathering limits slowed the training of new bus drivers, temporarily reducing the LTC’s ability to operate at full capacity.

In the meantime, sixty-foot accordion buses and additional ‘tripper buses’ are being utilized as much as possible on busy routes to reduce crowding.

More significant changes will take time.

“In this first couple of weeks (after Labour Day), until travel patterns settle in, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to make any significant adjustments until we know what the patterns will be,” adds Paleczny.

Ella Smith says entering her second year, she knows ridership to campus will rise even higher when autumn weather arrives, “When the temperatures get colder I’ll definitely start riding the bus because it’s a longer walk from my house. I can see the buses getting more crowded for sure.”

Paleczny expects to have enough drivers trained to return to 100 per cent operating capacity in November, but even that may not ease the concerns of some riders.

“What we would traditionally call crowding pre-pandemic, is very different from what people now consider crowding.”