Orange County’s public buses made their first cuts to service today, as ridership continues to drop amid public health fears around the novel coronavirus.
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Starting Monday, all public buses will switch to weekend service, which typically runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., compared to regular weekdays when service typically runs from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Depending on demand, some routes begin and end earlier.
“Route 43, for instance, which is one of OCTA’s most popular routes on Harbor Boulevard between Fullerton and Costa Mesa typically gets service about every 20 minutes during peak commuting hours,” said Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) spokesman Eric Carpenter on Friday. “With Sunday service, that’s reduced to about every 30 minutes.”
Transportation officials say the emergency change is necessary to allow coach operators who are over 65 years old, have underlying health issues or are on leave to care for children to stay at home.
The changes come as transportation officials move to sanitize the buses and surfaces like handrails while also seeing sharp drops in ridership since the start of the local coronavirus situation.
“The most recent numbers indicate that bus ridership continues to sharply decline. On Thursday, March 19, boardings fell below 50,000 for the day – an approximate 60 percent drop from the typical average of 125,000 boardings daily,” Carpenter said.
OC ACCESS, a county ride share service available for people living with disabilities that prevent them from using regular buses, will continue to operate as usual.
“We know that many of you rely on us to get where you need to be, whether to a medical appointment or to a vital job that helps our community keep functioning during this difficult time,” said OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson in a Friday statement.
The agency also sent home employees who can work remotely, in an attempt to promote social distancing and curb the spread of the virus, Johnson said in his statement.
Among other changes, the OCTA Board of Directors will teleconference their meeting on March 23, rather than hold it in person.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.