Ontario Transit

Why Durham Region is going the microtransit route during the pandemic – and what it means for other transit systems

Durham Region Transit and GO Transit buses meeting at Durham College/Ontario Tech University

Previously on this site, I expressed my skepticism about Durham Region’s commitment to improving transit service. But in the five years since, the region east of Toronto has done exactly that by creating a route grid along major corridors, fusing together a network from four separate municipal systems.

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has seen transit ridership plummet across the province, followed by service cuts to match the reduced demand, Durham is doing two interesting things: firstly, it is adding additional service on its main corridors, and it is replacing twenty-five low ridership routes with on-demand transit.

In my latest article for, I take a closer look at Durham Region Transit’s response to shifting ridership during a pandemic and the benefits and pitfalls of microtransit as a potential solution.

4 replies on “Why Durham Region is going the microtransit route during the pandemic – and what it means for other transit systems”

“Many of the suspended local bus routes replaced by ODT were designed to connect low-density subdivisions with GO Transit stations.”
Umm… not true. They were designed to provide general service to those areas. They connected with other routes – both at major roads and at GO stations.

Just had a chance to read the article. I’m both intrigued and concerned at the thought of disappearing fixed and predictable routes.

Microtransit certainly has advantages where fixed routes don’t make sense, but the final paragraph of the article I find reassuring:

[Doucet points out that the TTC has one of the highest farebox recovery rates in North America, “something that is not sustainable during a prolonged pandemic.” What’s necessary, he says, is continued direct investment: “Many studies also indicate that fast and frequent transit is the key to attracting and retaining riders. Many TTC routes suffer from overcrowding and delays being stuck in mixed traffic — investment in bus rapid transit, with high levels of service frequency, would be a far better and more equitable solution for larger urban areas.”]

As rational as that still is, it remains to be seen whether that endures through the coming year. Fortunately, in a morbid sort of way, the lack of such service would be a death-knell to our present economy. To completely slash fixed services would see local economies collapse.

On a related note, quite by serendipity from extensive cycling and using GO to reach and return from ‘nether regions’ of the GTHA, boarding the GO #29 bus at Guelph Central to return to TO, I happened across the late afternoon GOST mini-bus run to Owen Sound, and had a conversation with the driver as to whether it would be possible to load a light-weight bike (which I had with me) with the front wheel popped off (takes two seconds).

The answer was “Yes, contingent of there being space”. The vehicle has a ten passenger capacity, and the bike would take the space of a passenger (I really wouldn’t mind paying the extra if asked) and so if space allows, the fare to Elora or Fergus would be $5.00.

Morning departure is 10:47 from Guelph, optimal for being dropped at the Elora-Cataract Trail. Many other great possibilities present themselves. I wish I’d known about this earlier in the season, hopefully we’ll have a blast of good cycling weather again in October.

Will this service endure where others in the past have failed?

“Microtransit” is focused on calling-in a pick-up on an ‘as-needed’ basis. I don’t know what term applies to routes using ‘transit-vans’, but they also remain essential for delivering small town service. In the instance of GOST, it appears the scheduled timings lend themselves to persons like myself. And perhaps a bike rack on the back of both Microtransit and transit-van vehicles would be an addition to benefit all concerned?

Best I clarify a sentence from my post above:
[Fortunately, in a morbid sort of way, the lack of such service would be a death-knell to our present economy. To completely slash fixed services would see local economies collapse.]

The point I missed making is that due to the above being essential, it can’t be cancelled….at least in rational terms…and I bite my lip presuming that applies to many transit providers.

On the GOST service I referenced above, here’s an article with a pic of the vehicles used:

The service was announced initially a year back, I’ve misplaced the link for an earlier story, but here’s one on the delay:

There’s a bit more subterfuge to the story than that, and lots online found by Googling.

There is a subsidy behind this operation, probably money well-spent, and I truly hope this service succeeds.

I was up in Owen Sound last week. I’ll have more to say about some of the newer inter-municipal services – including GOST – soon.

Simcoe Linx has bike racks too, and with a connection from GO at Bradford, you could get to Beeton, not far from the Caledon Trailway at Tottenham.

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