Kelowna Regional Transit takes massive hit due to pandemic, but there's optimism around recovery

Transit takes $800k hit

Kelowna's transit manager believes the local transit system will bounce back from deep losses created by COVID-19 quicker than predicted.

In its three-year forecast, BC Transit says, based on actual fares prior to the pandemic, ridership will show a recovery of 55, 65 and 85 per cent over the next three years.

Conservative numbers according to Jerry Dombowsky.

"In the last few weeks of last year and the first few weeks of this year, we are already performing at, or better than projected recovery levels for 2020," he said.

"BC Transit forecasts are very good on cost, but the revenue I feel...we were increasing and growing prior to the pandemic. Ridership was growing every year."

The province provided the Kelowna Transit system with $5.9 million in safe restart funding, which Dombowsky says will allow transit to provide a vital service, at current levels, throughout the recovery from COVID-19.

In order to receive those funds, the transit system agreed to cap fare increases at no more than 2.3 per cent annually over the next three years while requiring essential service levels to be maintained.

Kelowna's portion of lost revenues in 2020 was about $2.3 million, however, that was offset with lower than anticipated costs.

Overall, the city had a net projected loss of about $806,000, a loss that will be offset by the safe restart contribution.

With additional costs of $5.74 million forecast for the next three years, and combined restart funding and available reserve funding of pegged at $5.54 million, Dombowsky believes there are enough options to weather the COVID-19 impact, and cover any deficiencies over the next three years.

He adds there is enough flexibility to increase service if ridership demands it, especially if both UBCO and Okanagan College resume a partial, or full in-person schedule sooner than anticipated.

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