Pandemic hit Ottawa's transit system harder than others in Canada, report shows
A bus passes a sign indicating users should enter the bus by the rear door as part of COVID-19 measures in Ottawa, Thursday April 16, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA -- A new report prepared for Ottawa's transit commission shows the COVID-19 pandemic impacted ridership more significantly in Ottawa than in other major cities in Canada.
The transit commission has routinely heard from staff that ridership on OC Transpo, Para Transpo and the LRT is much lower than pre-pandemic levels, but this new report presents data suggesting the makeup of Ottawa's workforce has played a major role in the decline in ridership across the transit system.
"Bus and O-Train ridership for the period of July 2020 to June 2021 was 24.5 million, 40 per cent lower than the period of January 2020 to December 2020 (40.5 million)," the report explains.
Ridership per capita in Ottawa in 2020 was 41.1 per cent of its 2019 level. Toronto's ridership per capita in 2020 was 41.6 per cent of 2019 levels, while Montreal's ridership in 2020 dropped to 45.8 per cent of its 2019 level. Edmonton and Calgary saw their ridership in 2020 decline to 52 per cent and 47 per cent of 2019 levels, respectively.
The report states that Ottawa's rate of working from home played a major role in the drop.
"According to Statistics Canada, Ottawa had the highest rate or people working from home in the country, with close to half (47 percent) of all workers performing their tasks from home from April to June 2021."
Para Transpo ridership dropped by about 70 per cent from March to December of 2020, but showed signs of recovery in 2021. April, May and June all showed higher ridership in 2021 than in 2020. April 2021 has the highest year-over-year ridership gain at 114 per cent.
Para Transpo ridership jumped from about 10,000 in April 2020 to more than 20,000 in April 2021. Nearly 30,000 people used Para in June 2021, up from approximately 15,000, but it is still well below the 2019 level of more than 70,000 riders.
Fewer customers means fewer customer calls
With fewer people riding OC Transpo and Para Transpo, fewer people were reaching out to customer service representatives.
"March 2020 marked the start of a steep decline in customer contacts in all categories in conjunction with a steep decline in ridership caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Winter 2021 had comparatively much fewer contacts than the previous year. This trend improved slightly over spring and summer while still being much lower than year over year," the report states.
There were about 80,000 customer service contacts in March 2019, which dropped to just over 40,000 in 2020 and nearly 30,000 in 2021.
June 2021 saw approximately 30,000 customer service requests compared to just under 20,000 in 2020 and about 80,000 in 2019.
More than three quarters of all customer service requests are phone calls.
Injury and crime rate up as ridership tumbles, but events are down overall
The lower level of ridership is getting the blame for an overall increase in the rate of injury and crime on the transit system, but staff note that, in raw numbers, injuries and crime are down overall.
There were 1.83 injuries per one million trips for the twelve-month period between July 2020 and June 2021, up from 1.23 for all of 2020. The raw numbers remained on par, with 50 injuries that required paramedic attention across the transit system in all of 2020, compared to 47 from July 2020 to June 2021.
The crime rate for the period of July 2020 to June 2021 was 6.0 crimes per 100,000 trips, higher than previous years because of the overall drop in ridership.
There were 1,500 reported crimes across the transit system in the 12-month period of study, which the report characterizes as a "slight decrease from years past." These include crimes against the person, such as assault and sexual assault; property crimes, like theft and vandalism; drug offences; and other criminal code offences, such as breach of peace, bail violations, and weapons offences.
Staff say that the rate of crimes against the person dropped to its lowest level in recent years, representing 19.9 per cent of reported incidents from July 2020 to June 2021, compared to 21.4 per cent for all of 2020 and 25.1 per cent for all of 2019. Drug offences, however, increased to 5.8 per cent during the studied time period, compared to 4.6 per cent for 2020 and 1.9 per cent for 2019. The rate of property crimes was relatively steady at 27.4 per cent, compared to 27.3 per cent for 2020 and 27.8 per cent for 2019. Other offences made up just under 47 per cent of all reported incidents, similar to 2020 and a slight increase from 2019.
Transit commission meets on Wednesday, where the report will be presented. Other issues on the agenda include an update on the Confederation Line, which will have been shut down for a full month by that point due to a derailment, and in camera discussions regarding union contracts with the Amalgamated Transit Union and CUPE.