OTTAWA -- OC Transpo says Ontario's stay-at-home order brought ridership down, as expected, through the month of April. 

The City of Ottawa's transit commission heard Wednesday that ridership levels across the transit system were 19 per cent of normal levels in April, down from 26 per cent in March.

Last month, staff told the transit commission that they anticipated a drop in ridership with the stay-at-home order, which came into effect April 8. The lower ridership is anticipated to last through May, as the stay-at-home order has been extended to June 2.

Ridership has been well below normal levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. OC Transpo saw levels drop as low as 10 per cent of usual volumes during the first few months of the pandemic before it slowly started to return to around 30 per cent once businesses reopened and people returned to school.

Cutting routes a "strategic error," transit boss says

Speaking to reporters at the meeting, Transportation Services General Manager John Manconi said the city does not need to cut services, despite ridership continuing to be low.

"To revert to any significant cuts would be a strategic error and council has done absolutely the right thing," Manconi said.

Throughout the pandemic, OC Transpo has continued to run at close to full capacity, with some adjustments to service. There are some planned service reductions slated to begin in June on a select number of routes, including the temporary suspension of some express routes between the suburbs and downtown.

However, Manconi said he believes ridership will return when the pandemic is behind us.

"Ridership will return. It may not return in its exact format and it may take some time to come back, but think about what we've accomplished. We've taken care of everybody in this community, including those who needed the service the most that got us through COVID," he said. "When we look at the national and international trends, wherever there is vaccination increasing, there is a relationship with ridership going up."

Chair of the commission, Coun. Allan Hubley, said now would not be the time to make any major route cuts.

"Without any big surprises, we've got the dollars to get us through," he said. "One of the things I've noticed at the vaccine clinics is there's a fair number of people who are using transit to get there to get their vaccines, so now would not be the time to interrupt that service at all."

COVID-19 among OC Transpo staff

The transit commission also heard that 124 of the approximately 3,000 employees at OC Transpo have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Most of them, 106 in total, have since recovered and are back to work but 18 remain in self-isolation.

There had been a push from the union representing transit workers to have staff prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines as essential workers. Transit workers were included in the second group of workers who cannot work from home under Ontario's vaccination rollout, becoming eligible for vaccines as of May 11. Vaccine appointments are now eligible for anyone in Ottawa 18 and older.

Manconi did not have any hard figures on how many OC Transpo employees have received a vaccine or booked an appointment, but he said the uptake is believed to be high.

"Every operator, every mechanic I bump into and every staff member I ask, 'Are you booked?' and I haven't received one no yet, so the uptake is there," he said.

"There's relief in the air. Getting that vaccine booked or into you gives them some comfort because they've been going through this tragic pandemic for all of us."

All current vaccination appointments in Ottawa through the provincial system were booked quickly on Tuesday, but the city says more appointments will open up as soon as more supply of vaccines arrives.