By DAVE SCHWAB | Downtown & Uptown News
At an April 23 joint remote press conference, Circulate San Diego and Metropolitan Transit System argued mass transit is critical to getting essential workers to their jobs while adding bus and trolley service will continue during the pandemic, though at reduced levels.
The conference came in response to a white paper report released that day by Circulate San Diego, which found nearly 16,000 essential workers in the region commute to work every day by public transportation.
Essential Transit uses Census data to analyze how much of the San Diego region’s transit ridership comprises essential workers and finds that 35 percent of usual transit ridership are essential workers. The report noted those 16,000 essential workers comprise 35% of those who normally commute aboard MTS and North County Transit District vehicles, according to pre-pandemic data.
According to Circulate San Diego, a regional nonprofit transit advocate, nearly 25% of the region’s essential workers do not own a vehicle and 30% of San Diego County’s highway maintenance workers rely on public transit daily.
“Our report identifies that essential workers of all categories continue to rely on public transit,” said Colin Parent, Circulate San Diego’s executive director. He added, “Special trips that are necessary by people and workers to hospitals, work, and other essential jobs are happening on transit.”
MTS is the public transit service provider for Central, South, Northeast, and Southeast San Diego County. MTS Marketing director Rob Schupp noted MTS buses, post-pandemic, are carrying less than a third of the usual ridership, and the trolley is carrying 60% fewer riders than usual.
“MTS is really fortunate to have a great leader, Nathan Fletcher, and a mayor who have been outstanding in giving direction to make sure our essential services continue,” said Schupp adding, “We’ve taken a tremendous hit on our ridership.”
“We were doing really well, making all the right moves to get ridership back,” added Schupp. “This is devastating for all of us, but we’re going to continue to provide ridership to 70,000 workers a day getting to work and making special trips. Our priority really has been to keep our riders safe and our operators employed.”
Noting buses now utilize rear-door boarding with no cash accepted by masked and gloved bus drivers, Schupp pointed out no bus or trolley lines will be cut, while admitting service reductions will translate into longer wait times, while still getting people to essential services.
Circulate’s Parent said their report was put out to inform the public about the facts of trolley ridership to counter those saying “Let’s shut everything down.”
Noting he believes “social distancing is going to remain with us for a while,” Schupp said, “Right now we’re doing all we can to make sure that only essential trips are being taken, and that our vehicles are being sanitized.”
Schupp admitted there were some difficulties initially in responding to the COVID-19 crisis which has since been overcome.
“We’ve had difficulty getting masks for all of our drivers, that’s been a struggle,” he said. “But we have enough of supply now to get us through quite a while. We’re looking in the future to providing lots of hand sanitizer. We’re really encouraging people to wear masks or bandanas that really covers your nose and mouth.”
— Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.