Public transit during a pandemic

A blonde woman, wearing a mask with a small heart on it, holds up a Guelph Transit Onyourway card in front of a Guelph Transit bus

According to Statistics Canada, transit ridership, and revenue, dropped by up to 85% last year. Guelph’s experience is consistent with comparable Canadian cities; with people working or studying at home, local ridership declined about 80%.

Service frequency was reduced based on lower ridership, but remained available for people to get groceries, go to medical appointments, and get to essential workplaces. Health and safety measures are still in place to protect riders and drivers from COVID-19.

To offset an estimated revenue loss of $7,946,560, the City took immediate action to reduce costs while maintaining this critical public service. Fewer routes and less frequent service helped lower fuel and maintenance costs, and with fewer shifts available, the City laid off nine full-time operators, eight part-time operators, and 14 positions are still vacant.

In addition to these savings, Guelph received enough emergency funding from other levels of government to offset the transit deficit. Guelph is prepared to restore routes and resume more frequency when ridership figures return to more typical levels.

While City facilities were closed to the public, Guelph buses kept on running. Guelph distributed about 4,000 OnYourWay fare cards from Guelph Central Station and participating retailers to ensure riders had what they needed to use the new automated payment system on the buses; 41% of bus fares were purchased online.

To improve service flexibility and manage the cost of delivering service to Guelph’s business parks, Guelph developed its first on-demand transit service in 2020. The service launched in May 2021.

As university and college students return to campuses this fall, Guelph is preparing to restore routes and service frequency to typical levels in fall 2021.

Guelph continues monitoring transit ridership, load levels and on-time performance by day, time of day, route and bus stop to ensure safe, reliable service.

Related resources

Additional 2020 highlights

A teenager with a helmet on walks her bike in front of stopped cars at a crosswalk

Transportation planning for a post-COVID world

When COVID-19 guidelines suggested people stay at least two metres apart, cities around the world made room for people to stay two metres apart while travelling.

Transportation planning for a post-COVID world