'It's not a lot': Regional bus routes to London attract few riders
Regional bus routes feeding into London from countless rural communities are running - at times - near empty.
The busing network - funded entirely as a pilot project by the Ontario government - launched in stages starting with Oxford County in the summer of 2020.
The routes provide low-cost scheduled service on mini buses to and from many towns surrounding London, Sarnia and Woodstock.
But since their inception, few people have taken a ride.
Some of the startling statistics, come from T-GO (Tillsonburg Municipal Transit). The agency operates routes in Oxford and parts of Middlesex and Norfolk counties.
Its figures show the buses had fewer than 2,000 riders for all of 2021.
CTV News London offered multiple interview dates to discuss the numbers with T-GO Transit Coordinator Ashley Taylor, but she stated she was unavailable.
Still, Alison Warwick, the mayor of Thames Centre and current Middlesex County warden, acknowledges the 2021 ridership numbers for parts of her region are not positive.
“Nope, it’s not, and I was two of them (riders) at one point. It’s not a lot.”
But, as we all know, the playing field for launching a transit service has not been level since the pandemic began.
“So being able to measure anything when the province is telling everyone to stay home is a little bit of a challenge,” Warwick says.
Charles Fitzsimmons, the coordinator for Huron Shores Transit (HST), agrees.
HST offers mini bus service to London and Sarnia, and soon Strathroy, to residents of Lambton and some Huron County communities. Its services also include a route to and from Grand Bend from London.
In 2021, Fitzsimmons noted HST welcomed 1,600 riders generating just under $10,000 in fares.
Not great numbers, he concedes, but still understandable.
“I would say in an ideal world, one would not start a regional transit service in the middle of a pandemic, but that is not the world we have to work in.”
And with provincial funding in place until 2025, there is time to build on a bumpy start, Fitzsimmons argues.
On February 2, HST will launch new and modified routes. They'll also offer free rides for children under 12.
But the biggest change is pricing for adults. Just $5 will take you anywhere.
“So you can make a trip from Sarnia to London if you wanted to do that, which would previously cost $20 under the old zone-based fare system. We just simplify all that now, so it’s $5 anywhere local or regional.”
And with more connections between all operators, it is anticipated more people will look over route maps, plan a trip or path to work, and leave their cars home.
Especially, Warwick says, when the pandemic eases.
“I truly believe in 2025 that the ridership will be there and the value will be there and municipalities are not going to do without it.”
Information on regional transit surrounding London, Sarnia, Woodstock, and elsewhere, can be found here.