NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There will be no more free rides or back door boarding on Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses.
If you've been riding the bus in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic, get ready for some changes that will make your ride more like it used to be.
As CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis explains, the MTA announced Tuesday it will return to front-door bus boarding and collecting fares -- back to the way things were pre-pandemic -- but with measures in place to keep riders and drivers safe.
The morning commute certainly looks different, with fewer people hopping on public transportation, but Priya Anand needs the bus to get to work.
"The first few days when it started, when I went back to work, I was nervous. It was scary, but people were taking initiative," Anand said. "Even the bus drivers, they're making sure the bus is not completely full."
She's been boarding the bus through its rear door -- not the front as usual -- a change made during the pandemic to distance riders and drivers. But the MTA announced Tuesday morning that's about to change.
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"To announce our return to front-door boarding on buses Aug. 31," said MTA Interim President Sarah Feinberg.
"All of our buses will be equipped with bus operator barriers," added Craig Cipriano, president of the MTA Bus.
A solid, clear plastic barrier will be installed around the driver's seat. It also means taking away a middle divider, creating more space on buses.
"What I would say to my bus operators is we absolutely would not do this and will not do this at the sacrifice of their own health and safety," Cipriano said.
With front entry, the agency will be collecting fares again, meaning no more free rides.
The MTA said based on ridership pre-COVID-19, bus revenue and ridership projections indicate a loss of about $431 million throughout the pandemic.
"Based on the number of riders who actually boarded over the last several months, had the MTA collected bus fares from those individuals, those fares would have amounted to $159 million. We are in a moment where every dollar counts, which is why we now find it is an appropriate time to resume fare collection," Feinberg said.
The MTA says it is losing about $200 million a week in revenues from losses in fares, tolls, subsidies and COVID-related expenses.
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DeAngelis asked riders what they think of the change.
"Starting to collect the fare again would be justified. I don't think its a bad idea," Anand said. "The government still needs money to run, right?"
"Me, I'm able to pay, thank God. But for a lot of people that are in need, it's gonna be tough," said Yoly Lopera of Teaneck, N.J., who works in Manhattan.
"To give good service, they have to charge it," said Ajit John of Old Bridge, N.J. "I don't have any objections. It's the fair thing."
Riders Alliance organizing manager Stephanie Burgos-Veras released the following statement:
"As bus fare collection resumes, Governor Cuomo and MTA leaders must also implement all-door boarding on every local bus by year's end as promised. Post-COVID, all-door boarding is more important to riders than ever. All-door boarding both helps riders maintain social distance and speeds up buses with the latest fare-payment technology.
"With fare collection returning, Governor Cuomo shouldn't waste riders' money on more MTA policing. Instead, the governor should make our transit system both fairer and safer by adding more frequent bus service to routinely overcrowded routes through New York's most heavily transit-dependent neighborhoods."
The MTA said it will be improving the air filtration system on its nearly 6,000 buses, and agents will be on board to make sure the new system runs smoothly.
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