In the latest irregularity owning to the coronavirus pandemic, the City of Morro Bay, which prides itself on running its own local bus service, is limiting the number of passengers that can ride the same bus at the same time.

“Effective April 15, 2020,” reads a news release from acting Public Works Director/Finance Director, Jennifer Callaway, “Morro Bay Transit will limit the number of passengers in the vehicle to no more than four riders at one time. This will allow the bus operator and passengers to continue practicing proper social distancing while providing lifeline transport services for those in need.”

Callaway said the new passenger limits are designed to further support guidance on battling the virus from the Federal Centers for Disease Control that include social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Asked what led to this, Callaway explained that initially ridership on the 14-passenger buses was low but had increased in recent days to where they could no longer maintain the safety zones for the drivers or other passengers.

“Per CDC guidelines for social distancing,” she said, “the first row of seats were blocked off to provide proper distancing between riders and the drivers on March 21. Ridership has been monitored closely since the shelter-in-place order went into effect to determine if service needed altering to respond to ridership changes in relation to maintaining proper social distancing for the protection of riders and drivers.”

Last week, the Federal Transit Administration advised transit agencies to take actions to reduce the likelihood that employees and riders contract or spread COVID-19 as per OSHA and CDC guidelines. Callaway said that included wearing face coverings, social distancing, frequent hand washing, facility and vehicle cleaning and other measures “to the maximum extent practicable.”

She said before the shelter-at-home orders, ridership was slipping as people were already staying home to avoid the virus. Ridership dropped to 1-3 passengers an hour. “These numbers,” Callaway said, “allowed for continued social distancing to occur for the protection of riders and drivers with no need to alter services.”

But ridership began to increase until they had seven riders on the bus at a time. That blew up the social distancing. “Proper distancing could not be maintained as recommended by the CDC,” Callaway said. “To ensure the continued safety of passengers and drivers, the decision was made to limit the number of riders in the bus at one time.”

The limits means some people waiting for a bus might not be able to board, if there are too many passengers, and would have to wait for the next bus, potentially in the rain.

The jump in riders occurred mainly at Albertson’s Market and City Park, the transportation hub for City and regional buses. Callaway said both offer covered bus stops and protection from the weather, should this year’s April showers continue.

“The City has had discussions with MV Transportation’s General Manager about being able to drop off a rider and loop back to a location where a passenger may have been not able to board the vehicle due to there being the maximum number already in the vehicle so that passenger would not have to wait another hour for the bus,” Callaway said.

The limit on riders, the number of which plays a small part in transportation funding, shouldn’t affect the City’s transit monies, though some of the other sources of revenues especially those coming from gas taxes, are somewhat less-certain.

“In discussions with SLOCOG,” Callaway said, “at this point no cuts to current TDA [Transportation Development Act] fund allocations for Fiscal Year 2019/20 are being contemplated; however, this may be revisited in late May, as additional information comes in from the State regarding sales and fuel tax revenues generated after the shelter-in-place order took effect.”

Memorial Day marks the normal start of the trolley service along the Embarcadero and throughout town. Will the trolleys run if the town is still shutdown? “Staff is in the process of evaluating what level of trolley services should be provided,” Callaway said, “given funding availability and the anticipated levels of tourism this summer. This would include looking at altering the days/hours of operation, as well as service level reductions such as combining, eliminating, or altering routes.”

She offered thanks to bus riders for their cooperation. “Morro Bay Transit thanks its passengers for doing their part to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing to put space between themselves and others, as well as continuing to practice healthy habits like washing hands for at least 20 seconds, wearing face coverings while out in public, and staying home if feeling sick.”

Morro Bay Transit buses are running a normal schedule and will make adjustments as necessary, “to continue providing basic lifeline services for the public and allow for services that will help promote social distancing and other individual risk minimization recommendations.”

For information on the City’s efforts to fight the Coronavirus, see: www.morrobayca.gov/covid19 or call the City’s COVID-19 hotline at: (805) 772-6278.