By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
It may be early in the year, but things are looking good for Durham Region Transit’s finances.
While the numbers are still preliminary and are dependent on a few possible circumstances to go its way, the transit authority is now forecasting a budget surplus of approximately $100,000.
Although that number seems low compared to an annual budget of approximately $50 million, it is a turn around from just a couple of years ago, when DRT was facing deficits of $1 million or more.
Vincent Patterson, the general manager of Durham Region Transit, says the shift from being in the red to getting into the black can be attributed to simply watching the numbers.
“We track…our expenses every two weeks, and make sure we address (the areas) where we have some risks facing us,” he says, adding that DRT has also restructured its internal workings to be more efficient, and has altered bus routes in order to get more people on transit in busier areas.
However, as with any transit authority, the real problem for DRT is convincing riders to leave the car at home and hop on a bus instead.
According to a budget status report presented to the region’s finance and administration committee, while the numbers are on the upswing for DRT’s finances, the same can’t be said for its ridership.
The amount of people taking the bus is down four per cent – or approximately 110,000 rides – compared to the same time period last year, with Presto card holders and seniors being the only two demographics to see an increase.
“We really need to wrap our hands around the fact that people use transit, by and large, by choice. Even though it’s easy to think of us as a monopoly…we have stiff competition, and it’s called the car,” Patterson says.
“We are mindful of that, so our goal is to create value.”
Patterson says DRT is looking to address these issues through increasing service and making better routes – including “more direct shots,” he says – so that people are more willing to get on a bus.
Another thing DRT is looking at is the implementation of what Patterson calls smart technology, or in others words, ways to track buses in real time. This way, he says, it makes it easier to plan trips as you will know exactly when a bus is expected to arrive, and potential riders don’t get turned off by having to wait outside for an unknown period of time for the next bus.