WINDSOR, ONT. -- The imminent resumption of public transit service is expected to be a costly endeavour according to a report outlining COVID-19 related costs for the City of Windsor.

The Preliminary Overview of Potential COVID Financial Impacts report, prepared by city administration, is set to be presented to Windsor’s council at its regular meeting on May 4.

The report shows Transit Windsor has suffered $1.65 million in losses related to the pandemic.

A 77 per cent dip in ridership and waived fees resulted in a $715,000 loss while the suspension of service in April cost $1.435 million. The $500,000 bus rebate program also cut into the $1 million in labour and fuel savings.

“It’s going to hit really hard,” says Pat Delmore, the executive director at Transit Windsor. “It’s a substantial amount of money that we’re losing every month now.”

The figures in the report provide a preview of what’s to come for the service after Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens announced on Monday public transit would resume as of May 4.

Buses will run again for the first time following the mayor’s month-long suspension of the service as a measure against the spread of COVID-19.

The service will operate on an “enhanced Sunday schedule,” according to the mayor, with buses cycling 20 minutes between stops, with no more than 10 to 15 passengers on a bus – typically fitted with 40 seats – to help riders observe physical distancing guidelines from health officials. Enhanced cleaning measures will also see buses sanitized every few hours while drivers will be given personal sanitizer to use during their shift.

The revised plan continues to waive bus fares as passengers will be boarded from the rear where no fare box exists on city buses. Delmore says fare collection typically accounts for about half of Transit Windsor’s $35 million budget.

“When we lose the 50 per cent, that’s going to just compound the amount of taxpayer dollars it takes to put a bus on the street every day,” says Delmore.

According to Delmore, transit services across the country are facing unprecedented pressures and in Windsor, the picture isn’t any different.

While Delmore feels the suspension of public transit highlighted its need in the community – the service saw a three per cent bump in ridership in 2019 compared to 2018 – Delmore suggests operating with near-empty buses and no fares may not be sustainable.

“It’s certainly something that’s being talked about right now,” says Delmore. “If you were to look at many cities – Vancouver, Toronto – they’re issuing layoff notices. They’re starting to recognize that they can’t continue to fund a transit service that way.”

Working out the details

Transit advocates in Windsor have been critical of the mayor’s decision to suspend transit service at the end of March, including J.C. Bitonti.

The transit user is pleased to see the service return, but is still concerned details have been overlooked.

She points to riders with a disability unable to be accommodated through the rear-boarding policy as a gap that needs to be filled.

“That’s really concerning to us because again the most marginalized and the most vulnerable folks who need access to transit still don’t have a safe way to access it,” says Bitonti.

Delmore tells CTV News protocols to accommodate riders needing assistance are still being worked out with ATU Local 616.

A request for comment from the union was not received as of news time.

Delmore says at least a dozen more drivers of the 130 laid off Transit Windsor employees will need to be called back to allow for the resumption of service.

More drivers will need to be brought back for the next phase of the resumption of transit service, which Delmore says will move to a “Saturday schedule” to allow for more trips.