The San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority (RTA) made a lot of changes to help people get where they needed to go during the pandemic. Now, the agency is working to get back to how things were before the pandemic.
During the pandemic, passengers could ride for free or for a fraction of the price. Starting July 1, bus fares will be returning to pre-pandemic prices starting with a baseline of $1.75.
"When the pandemic hit, we really reduced service from hourly service Monday through Friday down to five trips a day, so it matches our Saturday service," explained Geoff Straw, RTA Executive Director.
They also capped the number of people on a bus and that affected fare revenues. Those revenues comprise almost a quarter of the costs to keep transit operating.
As a result, fare revenue is down and operating costs are up.
Straw said, "Well certainly, we took on more operating costs for sanitizing, for you know, buying materials like sanitizer and gloves and those sorts of things.”
He went on to say federal funding through the CARES Act helped outfit the vehicles and keep things running.
“Which provided a lot of funding to backfill some of the funding that we lost in terms of the fares, but also provided the funding to do the measures we talked about - the driver barriers, the hand sanitizing machines, and the ionizers.”
"Early on, when COVID first hit, we did what everybody did - we started disinfecting, wiping every surface we could find, and as the science increased to show it was more airborne and travel was really how people were getting sick,” explained Andy Wyly, RTA Maintenance Facilities Manager.
So RTA installed ionizers on the buses. The small devices can kill airborne COVID-19 and other viruses.
“It is a filter very similar to the sort you'll see put in a lot of office spaces to help keep your offices clean. We're just doing the same thing in our buses," Wyly said.
Those safety measures are sticking around, as is the requirement that all passengers and drivers continue to wear masks.
As of June 15, capacity limits on buses and other transit went away. However, ridership isn’t back to where it was pre-pandemic.
Straw said, "We're getting to a point where we're not standing loads yet, but we're getting to seated loads during the busy commute times."
Bus riders can buy passes or pay for fares ahead of time. RTA suggests buying bus passes ahead of time or virtually to cut down on boarding time and limit physical contact between passengers and drivers.