Rural regional buses struggling for ridership across southwestern Ontario

Since the demise of Greyhound Services in our region, travellers have been scrambling to find alternatives ways to get around.

Yet, there’s been an option in most areas of southwestern Ontario for over a year now.

Still regional bus service is having a hard time catching on as CTV News witnessed.

Just across from London’s Masonville Mall sits a bus stop and shelter.

Almost all riders at the location are waiting for London Transit (LTC) buses. But, two services stop here. The other is the Huron Shores Area Transit Service.

It runs buses to and from London, through towns and villages leading to Grand Bend.

An inter-community transit bus stop for Huron Shores is seen beside and London Transit bus stop sign on July 5, 2021. (Sean Irvine/CTV London)

Operating for nearly a year, its arrival still leaves LTC passengers confused. Most, including Trevor Harding, are unaware they can ride to the Lake Huron beach resort from the mall. “I had no idea! I probably would do that.”

Regional buses, funding directly by the province, flow to and from most major centres of southwestern Ontario. Along their routes, they stop in small towns. Fares range from $5 to $20 one-way.

Originally slated for a two-year pilot project the province has just announced a further two-year extension, to 2025.

The systems, which utilize mini 20-24 seat buses, were created to service smaller communities, according to Demitri Makrakos. He oversees the system running between Sarnia, Strathroy and London. Makrakos says limited rail and road transit backs up the need.

“As well as Greyhound recently shutting down. Now people are looking to different forms of transit to the rural communities.”

But with COVID-19 it’s not exactly been a booming start. In the Huron Shores service area, transit coordinator Charles Fitzsimmons says buses frequently travel with very few riders. Local Mayor Bill Weber concedes the same feedback.

“From what I’ve heard there is not a large ridership. There are some routes that have a steady ridership but not much larger than that.”

Still, a few areas have had limited success, the Sarnia-Strathroy-London route is a key example.

“The afternoon service is the most used, that’s where they’ll be seven to ten people on the bus at a time.”

With COVID-19 cutting capacity in half, that’s nearly a full bus.

For other areas, marketing options are being considered to drive ridership, especially as pandemic restrictions ease.

For Huron Shores a video is being shot for potential use on television and social media.

It’s hoped further awareness and ease of use will come from a simplified transit app. It's designed to coordinate most schedules and routes in one spot.

In the interim here are some links to each transit services site:

Middlesex County

Strathroy-Caradoc

County of Brant

Norfolk County

Grey County

Perth County

City of Stratford

Town of Tillsonburg

Oxford County

Lambton Shores

Visit: http://ride-sct.ca/

For Chatham-Kent visit: 

https://www.chatham-kent.ca/transit/Pages/default.aspx

For Windsor, Essex & Leamington:

https://www.leamington.ca/en/our-community/ltw-transit.aspx