Transit Windsor ridership has rebounded. Too effectively, in accordance with riders

Windsor residents say they’ve noticed a recent increase in transit ridership, so much so that buses can occasionally get overcrowded.

“When I got home from the university, it’s pretty full at that time,” said Swapnil Dewani. “The 1C is pretty full at the moment.”

Transit Windsor’s annual report from 2022 says that ridership has “rebounded to approximately 95 per cent of the pre-pandemic average from 2017-2019.” The report also states that student ridership makes up a large part of ridership.

“While other transit agencies in Ontario continue to struggle with ridership recovery due to the emergence of remote work, Windsor seems well-positioned to continue into 2023 with a strong recovery,” the report continued.

But it is not only students that are having issues with transit. Another resident had an issue with accessibility due to overcrowding.

“People that have impairments can’t get to the seats and they’re not being given up,” said Richard Cabanaw, a stay-at-home father who cares for his children who have disabilities. “I do think the buses are overcrowded when it comes to having personal space.”

Swapnil Dewani is a student at the University of Windsor. He said buses get full when he heads home after classes, highlighting the 1C route in particular. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

A transit advocate is not surprised to hear these concerns. She says transit in Windsor does not work.

“The routes aren’t all that effective,” said Christine Fitzpatrick, one of the co-founders of Activate Transit Windsor-Essex (ATWE). “We’re looking at seeing that the bus frequencies increase and that we have a better service altogether for Windsor.”

A woman wearing a brown jacket standing in front of public transit busesChristine Fitzpatrick is one of the co-founders of Activate Transit Windsor Essex. She says transit does not work in Windsor. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

One resident wants to see Transit Windsor offer more options to get around the city.

“I feel like they could incorporate more buses and more routes,” said Riffat Ara Nikita. “They could introduce multiple buses at the same time so that students don’t have to stand. Sometimes it gets very difficult to stand a long way.”

Transit Windsor Executive Director Tyson Cragg said he sympathizes with riders and their concerns and is asking them to be patient while the service works on the problem.

“We’re well aware of the issues and every year we present plans to council for consideration,” he said. “It’ll be no different this year.”

Cragg said that along with an unexpected surge in ridership, staffing is one of the reasons that more buses cannot be deployed.

“We lost a lot of drivers through the pandemic,” he said. “But now that we’re back, running full steam, we still have additional drivers that we need to be able to provide that level of service.”

Transit Windsor returned to full service in September after operating at reduced capacity throughout the pandemic.

On Nov. 28, Windsor City Council voted 9-2 for a $100-million upgrade to existing transit services. Fitzpatrick spoke before council that day recommending a second, larger garage be built. Council decided against using the finances to build a new bus garage.

Fitzpatrick says it would allow for more routes to be created and house more buses to operate on new and existing routes.

“There’s a lot of places that people need to go to, especially industrial areas for work,” Fitzpatrick said. “They can’t get to those places for jobs and they have to lose out on jobs. There’s no routes out to some of the outskirts of Windsor.”

ATWE launched a survey in the fall of 2021 to learn more about how Windsor residents use transit. According to ATWE, of the 620 people that answered the survey, only a quarter of people who rely on transit believe it is easy to access employment opportunities.

“Dependency on a public transit system that is unreliable keeps many in Windsor-Essex in the cycle of poverty and locked out of opportunities for employment,” their mandate says.

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