ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- Dave Dyck has been riding St. Thomas Transit buses regularly for five years, but he acknowledges no rides has been 'regular' since the start of the pandemic.

"I’m trying only to go out once or twice a month to get groceries and that’s it. Other than that we stay at home," Dyck tells CTV News. He says he feels safer making that choice, even though rides are free, for now.

Rider Dave Dyck
Transit rider Dave Dyck is seen in St. Thomas, Ont. on Friday, July 3, 2020. (Sean Irvine / CTV News)

However, starting Monday, July 13, fares will again be collected by St. Thomas Transit bus drivers.

Mayor Joe Preston says it’s time, "Commerce is opening back up. During COVID-19, we certainly had free fares to get essential workers to where they had to be at work. And as things start to open back up we’re finding more commercial travel is back we think the transit system should go back to normal."

Preston cites the smaller size of St. Thomas Transit buses and new provincial funding to ensure deep-cleaning procedures continues, as two reasons he feels confident in permitting a return to a regular schedule and the collection of the $2.75 fare.

So far, he estimates the city has lost at least $30,000 every month since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

While the mayor suggests things will return to normal, on the bus, it’s just not the case.

Preston says mask use remains "encouraged," and seating is limited to chairs marked with a red X, leaving most seats unusable. 

Interior of a St. Thomas Transit bus
The interior of a St. Thomas Transit bus shows passengers distancing. Chairs marked with a red 'x' are ok to sit in. Those without one are to be left empty. (Sean Irvine / CTV News)

"Of course we’re asking people, if you’re not comfortable on the bus and the bus is too crowded by all means don’t take it wait for the next one."

Rider Lori Tellavi, who chooses to wear a mask at all times, says she feels safe on the bus with the current rules, adding a return to normal does not cause her anxiety. 

"I think we’ve been pretty lucky the past few months to not have to pay and everything has to change and go back to where it should’ve been."

Preston says that will soon include a return to an expansion plans for the St. Thomas Transit system. 

He says COVID-19 will not put a stop to a daily commuter route to and from London.