Bus fares back, masks 'strongly recommended' on transit system

Bus fares are now back in effect on the transit system as more people return to work and school, following months of major financial losses for TransLink.

TransLink expects bus fares will bring in an estimated $2 million a month, although that will depend on ridership levels. They’ve been losing about $75 million each month in revenues during the pandemic.

On Monday, Ottawa announced an advance payment of $2.2 billion in federal gas tax funding to cities — which could also be used for public transit projects.

TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy called it a “welcome first step,” and said they look forward to further discussions with the federal government.

“That seems to be more around capital funding as opposed to operating funding, so it’s a little bit different in that respect,” Murphy said.

TransLink is also continuing talks with the province regarding funding. In an emailed statement, Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said the government "can’t do this alone. As the premier has stated, we need a national response to the challenges that transit systems face.”

Buses will also have more room on board, with seat closures that were initially put in place to enforce spacing restrictions removed. In a news release last week, TransLink said with ridership increasing by more than 30 per cent over the past month, “demand cannot be met with the current seating arrangements." Drivers will now stop taking passengers when the bus is two-thirds full.

As capacity on the system increases again, the union representing transit security workers is hoping for an additional layer of personal protective equipment.

MoveUP vice-president of combined units Christy Slusarenko told CTV News Vancouver transit security workers already have masks, but want more protection from droplets as they come in close contact with people.

“They would really like to be able to wear a full face shield on top of the mask,” Slusarenko said. “They patrol the bus loops. They are also the first contact point, many times, that the bus operators will call if there's a disturbance on the bus.”

TransLink said the effectiveness and the suitability of shields is being assessed, and added there can be issues with contamination if shields are not cleaned properly.

People using the transit system are also being urged to use a mask if they are able, as there are times when physical distancing may not always be possible, according to Murphy.

“At this stage it’s not mandatory, because we don’t have the power to enforce such a mandatory recommendation,” Murphy said. “Right now, it is being strongly recommended.”

Bus riders are now able to board by the front doors again. Plexiglas and vinyl barriers have been installed to protect drivers. People are being asked to take advantage of the seats whenever possible, so drivers can get a better assessment of whether a vehicle is nearing the current limit for boarding.

Buses are also being treated with a disinfectant spray twice a week, on top of daily cleaning.

People are also being reminded not to ride transit when sick, travel at off-peak times when possible, and leave more time for their commutes.