OC Transpo outlines possible savings in 2021 to keep transit system running if ridership remains low

OTTAWA — The head of OC Transpo has outlines some areas where the city’s public transit system could save tens of millions of dollars next year by deferring certain projects until 2022.

In a memo to city council and members of the transit commission, Transportation Services General Manager John Manconi said keeping transit service running at its normal capacity, even if ridership does not return to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, is the main goal.

“At the November 4, 2020 Transit Commission meeting, staff presented three possible approaches to balance the OC Transpo budget in 2021, based on the expectation that transit ridership and fare revenue will continue to be at lower than budgeted levels,” Manconi said.

“Plan A continues to run the complete transit system at current service levels, with any shortage of fare revenue covered by transfers from the federal and provincial governments. Plan B, if the transfers from the federal and provincial governments are not received, will also continue to operate the complete transit system at current service levels, with any shortage of fare revenue covered by reductions in spending on capital projects. Plan C, which staff do not recommend, would make transit service cuts by reducing frequencies and increasing waiting time or by removing some routes entirely.”

Should funding from the federal and provincial governments not come, Manconi said there are ways OC Transpo could balance the budget without cutting services.

“The approach to Plan B consists of two parts. First, the $31.8 million in capital spending, which was planned for 2020 and was deferred into 2021, can be deferred further into 2022 or beyond, as required. […] The second part is the possible deferral of an additional $30 million in capital spending into 2022 or beyond,” he said.

A list of areas where projects could be deferred shows numerous infrastructure upgrades and refurbishments that Manconi said can wait while minimizing impacts to riders.

  • Bus refurbishment* $4,000,000
  • Lifecycle renewal of maintenance and similar equipment* $1,600,000
  • Fare Control equipment for new Stage 2 stations $12,900,00
  • Stage 2 transitional operating costs $1,500,000
  • Bus stop improvements and shelters* $1,000,000
  • Transit accessibility improvements* $ 500,000
  • Transit priority road and signal projects* $3,000,000
  • Lifecycle replacement of bus radios* $4,500,000
  • Operation management and control IT systems* $1,000,000

Manconi said, for the items marked with asterisks, that current work will continue and some new work may be possible using existing works-in-progress capital funding previously approved by Council.

“Following the Transit Commission and Council consideration of the proposed 2021 capital budget, staff will adjust spending in these areas through 2021 and, if required, to follow Plan B, once the level of funding from the federal and provincial governments is clear,” Manconi said.

The Transit Commission meets on Nov. 18.

The City’s 2021 draft budget includes a projected deficit of $153.5 million based on the COVID-19 pandemic lasting for the entire year.

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