It appears Saskatoon Transit will be edging its way to normal starting next month.
In tandem with Phase 3 of the province’s Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan, Saskatoon Transit will begin charging normal fares and will increase bus capacity on June 8.
The decision was made in part to accommodate the reopening of restaurants and bars, which transit believes will increase ridership.
“People that did not have a set place to go were starting to use some of the seats that we have available,” said transit director Jim McDonald.
“We’ve been trying to make sure that we have seats available for those people that have essential trips.”
Riders will also be able to enter through the front of the bus, and will be able to pay fares with cash or transit card.
The decision was made as restaurants and bars begin opening next month, which could put a strain on capacity.
In March, Saskatoon Transit began restricting passengers on buses and stopped charging fares. in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Capacity was capped at ten passengers, in an attempt to promote social distancing.
However, the new system won’t expand ridership by much. Only 13 to 15 people will be allowed to ride the bus at any given time.
A normal large bus can hold around 40 seated passengers with another 20 to 30 people standing.
McDonald said transit is doing its best to work on the issue, but said capacity issues were a huge concern.
He said Saskatoon Transit’s entire fleet of buses is being used right now.
“We’ve been able to move buses around from what used to be higher frequency routes and runs and we don’t have the morning frequency being put in place at all,” he said.
“So, that’s allowed us a certain number of spare buses to throw against those problems on high demand routes where we’re seeing people being left behind.”
McDonald said all drivers are now outfitted with reusable masks, as well as hand sanitizer. Buses are being sanitized regularly.
Transit will now start to outfit buses with a vinyl plastic sheet around drivers, secured by velcro straps, to protect them from COVID-19 infection.
McDonald said transit has the authority to waive fees for people who can’t pay, or people who haven’t been able to renew their bus pass, on a case by case basis.
In a report, transit expected an overall deficit from anywhere from $8.4 million to $10,3 million, depending on when restrictions are lifted.
The report said it wasn’t clear how long it will take to bring ridership back to pre-COVID-19 levels. Bus ridership is currently at 10 to 15 per cent from where it normally is.
Council voted unanimously to enact the plan at a special meeting on Wednesday.