The federal government is coming to the aid of British Columbia’s transit systems, signing a Safe Restart Agreement providing $1 billion to help keep B.C. transit companies afloat. The agreement has been signed with TransLink, BC Transit and BC Ferries who have committed to cap fare increases until 2024 and to guaranteeing pre-pandemic service levels.
“This funding will support these services so they are here for us as we get back to normal,” said George Heyman, Minister Responsible for TransLink.
TransLink received $644 million from the deal in exchange for capping fare increases at a maximum of a 2.3% per year for four years as well as maintaining the same service hours as they had in January 2020, before the pandemic began. According to the agreement, the money will be used to bridge the fiscal deficit caused by COVID-19 in order to maintain service levels.
TransLink is expecting it to take between two to eight years for ridership to return to 90% of pre-COVID levels. The company’s pandemic recovery model projects that ridership could be depressed for ten years. This could spell difficulties for the company in the future if ridership has yet to return after the deal expires in 2024. Although TransLink’s service expansion was cancelled, 100% of pre-COVID service will operate in 2021.
BC Ferries is receiving $308 million from the agreement. The company is also freezing rates until the end of March and will continue to adhere to rate caps put in place before the pandemic. In the agreement BC Ferries also says that it will maintain service levels and additional sailings to meet community needs will be maintained through at least the next three years.
BC Transit is receiving $86 million from the agreement and is committing to similar fare caps and service guarantees. BC Transits capacity is currently running 41% below historic levels however the company says that it’s important to continue to operate at 100% in order to accommodate social distancing.