Orangeville Transit more than doubles ridership since offering fare free service

February 29, 2024   ·   0 Comments


While an increase in transit ridership is welcomed by Orangeville council, there’s concern about the state of the town’s buses.

Council received the passenger tally for the last half of 2023 during its regular meeting on Feb. 26.

For comparison purposes, staff used 2019 ridership figures as the baseline for the analysis because some of the data in 2020, 2021 and 2022 may have been skewed by the COVID-19 pandemic and other restrictions imposed on transit systems by the provincial government.

As such, staff deemed it prudent to compare the current numbers in the third and fourth quarters of 2023 to a time when there were no restrictions in place. This approach was used for reporting in previous reports.

In Quarter 2, staff reported that Orangeville Transit’s total ridership increased nearly 102 per cent, or from 27,598 passengers to 55,649, more than doubling over the same period in 2019.

Total ridership increased about 170 per cent in Quarter 3 and 140 per cent in Quarter 4 over the same period in 2019.

Staff also compiled and compared operating costs against the number of riders in each period. For 2023, the gross operating expenditure for Orangeville Transit was about $1.043-million compared to $406,831 in 2019.

A report to council also provided an update about the state of the Orangeville Transit fleet and a summary of the more significant mechanical and supply chain issues that resulted in extended service interruptions.

While it’s nice to see such a substantial increase in riders, Councillor Joe Andrews said he’s concerned about the status of three buses in the Orangeville Transit fleet.

Problems with buses have been a contentious discussion at various times, he said.

“We have three lemons that, unfortunately, are posing some significant challenges for a variety of people who have spoken here at council about accessibility,” Andrews said.

The transit report indicated the purchase of a new, bigger bus is in the works. But that doesn’t address the three problematic vehicles.

Andrews asked if there was a plan to get rid of the three lemon buses.

“I know we’re talking about significant dollars,” he said.

Derek Currie, the town’s capital works manager, said a cost-benefit analysis of the existing buses should be reviewed.

Tony Dulisse, transportation and development manager, said a turn-around of about 12 years was anticipated when the buses were bought in 2016. That was reduced to 10 years last year as part of annual budgeting, he said.

“Certainly, we are looking at probably about seven years now,” Dulisse said.

One of the comments from bus operators and staff mechanics was that the buses have about 250,000 kilometres on them. And those are hard city kilometres which makes the odometer more like 500,000 kilometres.

“These buses aren’t as robust as we anticipated,” Dulisse said. “We are working to correct that. We are working to look at new opportunities to purchase.”

In fact, the municipality has issued a request for proposals for the supply of a new bus.

“We are looking at ways to get the buses going in straight lines,” he said. “Not up and down the smaller local streets.”

That would lessen the maintenance burden on the fleet, he said.

Andrews asked if there’s a correlation between the drop in advertising to the use of school buses as replacements for buses taken off the road for repairs. Those school buses also exacerbate the accessibility issues council has heard about, he said.

“The short answer is yes,” Dulisse said

Deputy Mayor Todd Taylor said the town has taken a financial hit by making public transportation free for riders. It doesn’t matter how much ridership increases when the fact is the town has to pay the whole cost for gas and bus repairs.

“This is not sustainable,” he said. “We can’t continue down this path.”

Taylor understands the social benefit of free public transportation. And it’s worked out to get the ridership up.

“But for the rest of us who are taxpayers, this makes no sense,” he said. “We can’t continue on in this way. Something has to give in terms of funding.”

“I think that your assessment of the financials is maybe a little unfair because, regardless of whether we had a free transit pilot (program) or not, the cost of running the bus would have gone up $650,000,” Mayor Lisa Post said. “It’s not as a result of ridership”

Economically speaking, Post said free transit has gotten more people into downtown core businesses.

Dulisse said everybody he’s spoken with is grateful Orangeville has a free bus service.

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