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Transit ridership will take time to recover from pandemic

Public transit ridership is still in recovery mode and it could be four years before ridership in the region returns to pre-COVID ridership levels — TND file photo.

It could be four years before public transit ridership in the region returns to pre-COVID ridership levels, according to a regional district report.

Public transit ridership is still in recovery mode, noted Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) research analyst Tom Dool in his annual operating agreement report to the board of directors.

“Depending on the route and time of day current ridership levels fluctuate between 60 per cent to 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels,” he said. “Current forecasts do not expect a return to pre-COVID ridership levels until 2025.”

For this reason, BC Transit has declined to fund any service expansion in 2022-23, explained Dool.

“However, the local government timelines required for service expansion, particularly where new rolling stock are required extend beyond this period,” he continued.

Dool wrote that, under the direction of the board, the RDCK would continue with the work outlined in the Creston Valley and West Kootenay Transit future service plans.

The annual operating agreement between the RDCK and BC Transit is for the provision of a public passenger transportation system for the period of April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023. The operating agreement details fares, service specifications and budgets for the provincial fiscal year.

Costs, fuel increase

The local transit authority is on its own when it comes to inflation and increasing costs.

BC Transit will no longer fund shared operating reserves on their side of the shared operating budget, as directed by the Auditor General of BC, noted Dool.

“This requires that local governments take into consideration the need for operating reserves to cope with fuel price volatility, increased operating costs and reduced revenue,” he wrote.

“Operating reserves, exclusive to local government, have been established in the shared BCT/local government operating budget as local transit funds.”

The remaining balances of shared operating reserves and safe restart funding have been transferred into these accounts, Dool pointed out in his report.

Increased volatility in fuel pricing and operations costs have resulted in a $41,548 (two per cent) rise in the projected local government share of public transit costs, he wrote in his report.

“Local transit fund reserves within the shared operating budget are intended to address operating budget shortfalls of this sort,” Dool explained.