LONDON, ONT. -- Promised enhancements to city bus service will be delayed until early next year, as COVID-19 protocols slowed the training of new drivers.

In January, the London Transit Commission approved the 2021 Service Plan adding 18,000 hours of service to its routes, which would ease congestion on the busiest routes and eliminating one-hour waits between buses.

Originally intended to launch Sept. 5, the inability to train enough new drivers will delay most of the improvements until February 6, 2022.

“I’m not surprised to see it happen,” admits Councillor Phil Squire, Chair of the LTC. “The service improvements are going to be more important as we return to normal ridership.”

A report to the commission explains that the current staffing level, “is not adequate to provide for the additional Operators required to allocate tripper buses to routes experiencing crowding conditions.”

Recruitment of new drivers began in April, but COVID-19 restrictions limit the training sessions to just four drivers at a time.

Typically, training classes can accommodate six to eight drivers.

The improvements to service levels require approximately 11 new drivers.

“Doing anything now is more cumbersome with COVID here, so we’ve gotten used to the fact that things take time,” adds Squire.

London Transit is operating at 90 percent of its current service level because of driver illness and pandemic impacts, but should return to full operation in time for the return of students to Western University and Fanshawe College this September.

The pandemic has seen ridership plummet, remaining just below 40 percent of pre-COVID averages.

The service enhancements were seen as a way to attract riders back to LTC buses after the pandemic.