By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter
Durham Region Transit (DRT) fares are coming back next month.
Transit fares will resume July 2, and riders should expect to see some additional changes on the buses as well, according to the region.
Transit fares were halted on March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with some other changes, including a reduction in service, riders boarding at the rear of the bus, and limiting the number of passengers on each bus to support social distancing practices.
Service was reduced by 20 per cent due to the sudden 70 per cent decrease in ridership due to the pandemic, according to the region.
“Staff are dedicated to our community and they enable DRT to provide a predictable service for residents and essential workers during this unprecedented period of uncertainty,” says General Manager Bill Holmes. “Staff were able to work quickly to mobilize and implement the operational measures necessary to protect customers and employees,” he adds.
On June 8, in response to sustained decreases in ridership, DRT reduced service by another 18 per cent, and while service has increased slightly over the last couple of weeks, Holmes says DRT will continue at a reduced service throughout the summer, with a phased approach to service restoration as ridership grows.
“We expect to retain adequate capacity to accommodate the expected ridership increase over the summer as the economy slowly opens,” he says.
According to Holmes, fare collection needs to resume in order to decrease the year-end deficit, adding if DRT continued at its current service level and continued foregoing fares, the projected year-end deficit would be $20.4 million.
“Staff have already taken measures to avoid the necessary cost of identified efficiencies such as service reductions, reduced fuel and maintenance costs, the eliminated of discretionary spending, and gapping,” he says, for a total cost avoidance projected at $8.3 million.
Holmes says resuming fare collection in July is estimated to generate $5.5 million in additional revenue.
“The resumption of fare collection for the last six months of the year is an important part of our strategy to mitigate the size of our year-end deficit,” says Holmes, adding these actions together will reduce the year-end deficit to $6.8 million.
While the service reduction has reduced DRT’s area coverage, Holmes says customers will continue to have access to services within a 10 to 15 minute walk or may need to change their traditional travel patterns slightly to account for the route changes.
Reducing service during the summer months was the preferred choice, as Holmes says it’s a time when people have access to more active transportation options.
As part of the resumption of fares, there will be no change to the price of monthly passes across all fare categories, including the co-fare program with Metrolinx that enables customers to travel with DRT for $0.80 when connecting to and from GO Transit, according to the region.
DRT will also temporarily be eliminating paper transfers when paying by cash or tickets. Riders will have to pay each time they board a bus.
Cash fares will be increasing by $0.25, and PRESTO single ride taps will increase by $0.05 while still offering customers savings of $10 for every 14 trips compared to paying by cash.
To help support customers paying by cash, DRT will be issuing up to 4,000 free PRESTO cards, the distribution of which will be reviewed and implemented through June.
In order to comply with the health and safety measures set out by the province due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DRT will also be installing protective barriers for drivers.
Front-door boarding will also be resuming to facilitate fare collection.
The region is also investigating the possibility of e-ticketing solutions that can be implemented quickly and efficiently for contactless payment to eliminate shared touch points and the possibility of transmitting the virus.
“We are committed to ensuring transit remains a safe, reliable option for residents of and visitors to Durham Region,” says Regional Chair John Henry. “We’re pleased to offer free PRESTO cards to help hasten the transition to contactless payment and provide easier and more accessible ticketing options that ensure the continued safety of our customers and employees.
More information about updated safety practices and onboard protocols, fare collection, incentives and payment, can be found on www.durhamregiontransit.com/covid-19.