LONDON, ONT -- The London Transit Commission is preparing to collect bus fares again as a new report recommends front door boarding and fare collection resume no later than September 1.

Ridership is rebounding on London buses as the city settles into Stage Three of reopening.

The Chair of the London Transit Commission says a plan is in place to return to front door boarding in the next five weeks.

“It’s going to be no later than September 1, and that’s important because starting in September is a much busier time for transit,” said Phil Squire.

The LTC stopped collecting fares March 20, concerned front door boarding did not permit enough distance between the driver and passengers during the pandemic.

This report to the transit commission explains that was a costly decision.

It estimates even after reducing service and redirecting funds the LTC still faces a $2.26-million budget deficit.

It recommends a return to fare collection and front door boarding no later than the start of September by installing barriers beside drivers.

Because of high demand across Canada, the LTC is only receiving and installing about 30 of the barriers each week, and doesn’t expect to have its entire fleet outfitted until mid-October.

To meet the September target for front door entry and fare collection, staff will start installing temporary barriers based on a design from Kitchener-Waterloo.

The $960 units will be replaced as the permanent barriers arrive.

“Then we can take those temporary barriers, resell them, and get the money back. I’m comfortable with that,” said Squire.

But not all riders are comfortable with front door boarding and a return to paying fares.

“Considering the pandemic situation, it’s better to go through the back doors rather than the front door,” said LTC rider Smaran Vokkalijaravi.

Staff also recommend returning to 90 percent of the LTC’s typical service level in September to correspond with the return of Western and Fanshawe students.

Squire is confident that the millions in lost revenue related to not collecting fares will not be left to city hall and property taxes, but the joint federal and provincial commitment to bailout transit services that continued to operate during the worst of the pandemic.

“We know they are going to provide billions of dollars (to offset) lost operating revenue. We can use that money to cover what we’ve lost to date,” said Squire.