Aligning itself with other public transportation authorities, as well as in response to loosening federal rules for Canadian air and rail travel, Transit Windsor is getting rid of mandatory mask-wearing on its buses starting Saturday.
“Our messaging will be — we still recommend and encourage people to wear masks, but it will be a personal choice,” said Transit Windsor executive director Tyson Cragg.
Ottawa formally announced on Monday that, as of Oct. 1, face masks will no longer be legally required to travel on the train or to board passenger aircraft. And to the great relief of business and political leaders on both sides of the Windsor-Detroit border, the federal government is also ending mandatory COVID-19 reporting at Canada’s international ports-of-entry.
With the gradual easing of pandemic-related public health restrictions, Cragg said the continued requirement of having to wear face masks on Windsor’s buses “became more and more of an issue over the summer … it was creating problems.”
We’re happy to report the tunnel bus will be resuming
He said there were conflicts between drivers — trying to enforce a policy aimed at protecting all passengers — and some potential customers who resisted having to wear face masks to board. With transit supervisors, and occasionally even Windsor police, having to get involved, Cragg said it was disruptive to maintaining bus schedules.
Making the ArriveCAN app voluntary for border crossers starting Oct. 1 also means good news for North America’s only municipal transportation company offering international bus service.
“We’re happy to report the tunnel bus will be resuming,” Cragg said of Transit Windsor’s bus service to Detroit that has been suspended since March 2020.
The goal is to have the tunnel bus rolling again by late-November. “It’s not like flicking a light switch,” said Cragg, adding protocols have to be worked out with border and tunnel authorities and 40 or more Transit Windsor bus drivers will require training for the international trips along a regular route and to special events in downtown Detroit.
Transit Windsor carried about 200,000 passengers through the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel in 2019, the last full pre-pandemic year. Tunnel buses excepted, the municipally owned bus service, which had a total 2019 ridership of 8.4 million passengers, resumed full service on Sept. 4.
“There’s been a very strong response … we’re very pleased,” said Cragg, adding that, as of last week, ridership numbers had hit 93 per cent of pre-pandemic volume.
After a couple years of making it a hassle for many wanting to cross the Detroit River, “we now have to make sure people and businesses on both sides of the border know that ArriveCAN and other border measures are lifted,” Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Rakesh Naidu said in a statement Tuesday.
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“This is good news for all,” added Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO Sandy Baruah. “Detroit and Windsor comprise an important, integrated and impressive economic region — our business and social lives are inextricably connected.
“Any barriers to the free flow of commerce and people costs both Americans and Canadians,” said Baruah.
Local MP Brian Masse (NDP—Windsor West) said on Tuesday that the decision to lift the mandatory use of the ArriveCAN app — introduced in April 2020 and made mandatory in November 2020 prior to vaccines being made available — should have been made months ago.
That delay “created unnecessary hardship for so many Canadians,” said Masse, and cost workers and business in the local hospitality sector a third lost tourism season.