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Bus Systems Serving Central, South Coast Struggle With Coronavirus Financial Fallout

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It’s been a tough time for many businesses on the Central and South Coasts due to coronavirus.  But perhaps none have been hit as hard as bus systems in the region, which are reporting ridership down 50% to 75%.

Steven Brown is General Manager of Gold Coast Transit District, which serves the Ojai, Ventura, Oxnard, and Port Hueneme areas. Brown says during the early days of the crisis, they had to do something they had never done before: actually discourage people to use buses unless it was essential.  Now, with safety measures in place, they are better able to accomodate riders safely.

Darren Kettle is Executive Director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.  He says transit systems are being hit financially in multiple ways at the same time. Ridership is down, while simultaneously, most systems haven't even been charging fares during the pandemic, because they have been trying to eliminate contact with fare boxes and to protect drivers from contact with the public.

On top of that, systems are expecting drops in sales and gas tax revenue the receive.

Kettle notes that the county’s transit systems have received $70 million dollars in emergency funding through the federal CARES ACT.  Half of it goes to Metrolink for commuter train service, with the other half going to the county’s bus systems.  It could help keep them going for the next year and a half. 

Kettle says bus service in the county is critical for many riders, serving low income residents who have no other means of transportation.

Gold Coast Transit is actually beefing up some of its routes this weekend, and making changes like consolidating stops to improve efficiency.  Brown says they are taking a number of steps to insure passenger safety against coronavirus, ranging from frequent bus cleanings to requiring masks.

Thousand Oaks Transit is taking an optimistic approach to the situation.  It’s making a number of modifications to its service starting in August which include adding 17 new stops.

Those in the public transportation field say they are working hard to keep the buses rolling, but they face two ongoing major issues.  One is the financial blow.  The other is simply convincing people that buses, and commuter trains are a safe way to travel during the coronavirus era.