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Bay Area Transit Agencies Struggle To Match Service To Ridership During Pandemic

PLEASANTON (KPIX 5) -- With ridership down by as much as 90 percent, Bay Area transit agencies are grappling with lowered revenues and uncertain estimates for when the shelter-in-place orders will be eased.

State leaders are discussing easing the shelter-in-place restrictions, but that leads to other challenges. BART reports their daily ridership is down 96 percent from this time last year, so right now social distancing on the trains isn't a problem

"We have so many fewer passengers and we have longer trains, and that is creating the opportunity to socially distance," said BART spokesperson Jim Allison.

BART has not implemented a set limit to the number of passengers allowed on each train. They say it's not an issue right now due to the drop in ridership. On Thursday morning, the most crowded train cars only had 20 people on board.

AC Transit just released new limits on how many riders can be on each type of bus to give people room to social distance.

On a 30 foot feeder bus, only 6 passengers will be allowed on board. For the standard 40 foot coach, the limit is 10. The 60 foot articulated bus will now carry a maximum of 16 people and the transbay, 44 foot double-decker bus will only hold 24.

"Ensuring the safety of all of our riders and all of our employees is our paramount focus," said Robert Lyles, the spokesperson for AC Transit.

Right now many of the buses are basically empty, but what happens when people need to go back to work and still maintain social distance? Transit agencies say they don't know how they're going to handle that.

"We don't know precisely what that will look like down the line. How do we build our service to accommodate those changes in employees returning to work?" said  Lyles.

"It's really difficult to speculate as to what life will be like when these shelter-in-place restrictions and recommendations are rolled back. We'll take it as it comes. We like to say we are moving at the speed of safety and will continue to do that," said Allison.

A big issue BART is facing right now is the lost revenue. 60% of its operating budget comes from fares paid by riders.

Running more frequent trains and longer trains to allow for social distancing is expensive, so the board of directors will be discussing the budget at their meeting next week.

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