With people staying in their homes, not a lot of folks are riding the bus anymore.
“Last night I had one person on one route, turned back, and I never saw a soul,” said Dale, a bus driver for Madison Metro Transit. “No one is out late at night, so this reduced service has gotta happen. Nobody’s out there.”
Last Tuesday the City of Madison announced that it would be changing its bus schedules. Beginning next Monday, March 23, most buses in Madison will run on reduced service routes. Some routes, including those to Verona, Epic, Fitchburg, Sun Prairie, and Middleton, will operate on normal hours.
The move is part of a push by the city to reduce bus usage in order to keep riders and drivers safe. According to Natalie Erdman, the interim general manager for Madison transit, they are also trying to make the rides themselves safer.
“We’re taking a set of actions to really address the safety of both our drivers as well as our passengers,” says Erdman.
“The first step of that began this Monday with the capacity limit of 15 people plus a driver on each bus, and that was really meant to give people the ability to social distance as recommended by the health experts. We’re also looking at asking people to use Metro Transit just for essential trips because we do have many people who are transit-dependent who still need metro to get to medical appointments, to work, to the grocery store. And we want to make sure that those folks are able to access this transportation and still have that social distancing.”
In addition, Metro transit is asking those who do take the bus to exit through the rear door to keep bus drivers safe from the spread of coronavirus.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control says that, in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, people should keep a distance of at least six feet between themselves and others.
At the time of this broadcast are twenty-seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dane County, as well as confirmed community spread. This means that people have caught the disease from others in the county itself. This has led to Madison schools being closed and UW-Madison shifting to an online-only format over the past week. But some people need to travel and could be impacted by the 15-passenger cap. Erdman says the city will be monitoring the situation and making changes as needed.
“Our ridership has fallen fairly dramatically this week, and as we go forward we’ll continue to look for those routes where we see higher ridership,” said Erdman. “With the reduction in service that we’re starting next week, we’ll have the capacity to put buses on those routes where we really need to have more buses so that people can get to where they need to go.”
Erdman said that, in order to enforce the public safety rule changes, they are relying on Madison citizens to comply with them.
“We’re asking our drivers that, if they have fifteen people on the bus, that they at least stop at a bus stop to tell the person that’s there that, due to coronavirus, we have reduced capacity to keep our passengers safe and that they’ll have to wait for the next bus,” said Erdman.
Dale agrees with the policy to exit through the back door.
“What Madison Metro is telling everyone is exit through the back door. As long as people exit through the back door and are coming through the front door, no one is meeting face to face. And that’s a really good thing.”
The new schedule takes effect next Monday.
(Photo credit: Brian Standing / WORT News on Flickr)
Editors note: This story has been corrected to reflect the accurate times of the reduced service bus schedule.