Pandemic forces restrictions and reductions for northern transportation
SAULT STE. MARIE -- The COVID-19 pandemic is making operation difficult for transportation companies in the north.
One of those is Ontario Northland, which says it is reducing bus service across the region as a direct result.
"We know lots of Ontarians are no longer travelling as much anymore and we're realigning our service to react to that new demand," said Corina Moore, president and CEO of Ontario Northland.
Moore said reductions will go into effect on Sunday, April 26.
It comes after Ontario Northland already capped the maximum occupancy per ride, in an effort to enforce physical distancing measures.
"It's important to note that this will only impact the frequency of busses across the north," Moore said. "There will still be service in place, just at a reduced rate."
Sault Ste. Marie taxi companies are also feeling the pressure of the pandemic. Unlike big busses, ensuring physical distancing is practiced is extremely difficult.
The owners of Union Cab say they're implementing a strategy to address that.
"We've worked together with some glass companies here to set something up in place to protect everyone," said Mike Cowan, an owner of Union Cab. "It's essentially a flexible glass piece that covers the rear passenger seats, separating the driver from the occupant."
Cowan said they've also rolled out an on-demand app recently, which has come in handy with the reduction of reducing dispatch hours.
But with more people at home and fewer places to go, keeping drivers onboard has been difficult.
"We've gone from a staff of roughly 35 employees to a small handful, so business is definitely reduced," said Lesley Cowan, another owner of Union Cab. "People just aren't in need of us at this point as much as before, obviously, but we're still operating as an essential business."
However, the Cowans say they're able to see a silver lining throughout their difficulties.
"We want people to stay home, for the better of the community," Mike said. "Yes, we're taking a hit like everyone else in Sault Ste. Marie, but in terms of our business, we see the greater good in that, in terms of building a better future."
That future, they said, is to hopefully continue offering service to Sault Ste. Marie for as long as possible.
Meanwhile, officials at Ontario Northland said no layoffs will come as a result of its reductions.
"We want to return to normal service as soon as possible, so these will only be temporary," Moore added.