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MTS Cuts Bus, Trolley Routes As Coronavirus Causes Ridership Drop

An MTS trolley approaching the Grantville station is seen above a vacant lot, which the transit agency has approved for housing development, June 19, 2019.
Andrew Bowen
An MTS trolley approaching the Grantville station is seen above a vacant lot, which the transit agency has approved for housing development, June 19, 2019.

The Metropolitan Transit System is cutting back its routes by about 25 percent as the coronavirus pandemic causes big drops in ridership on buses and trolleys throughout San Diego County.

The cuts will take effect next Monday, April 13. About 75 percent of bus routes will see some reduced frequency or span, leaving about 35 bus routes that won't be cut, said MTS CEO Paul Jablonski during a webinar on Monday with reporters.

MTS Cuts Bus, Trolley Routes As Coronavirus Causes Ridership Drop
Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

Trolley routes will be impacted less, he said. The orange and green lines will be unchanged, while the blue line will run less frequently — every 7.5 minutes in the morning and afternoon rush hours and every 15 minutes during the middle of the day.

"No routes will be discontinued, every route that we operate today will continue to operate every day," Jablonski said.

He added that the reduced routes still allow people to access services such as medical centers and grocery stores and take into account the need for social distancing on board buses and trolleys. The plan also gives MTS the flexibility to shift back to full service in the future.

"We feel confident even at this slight reduction in service, we have enough room for social distancing," Jablonski said.

RELATED: MTS Considering Service Cuts As Coronavirus Causes Ridership To Plummet

The drop in ridership has been between 65 and 70 percent since the beginning of March, Jablonksi said. He said MTS received about $200 million from the federal stimulus package, which they will use to make up for ridership loss and increased cost of cleaning.

The routes are being cut partially because of the drop in ridership. But it's also because the agency wants to have a reserve of bus drivers and trolley operators who can fill in if others get sick, Jablonski said.

So far one driver of a minibus has tested positive for COVID-19. MTS put up alerts on the routes that person drove to inform riders of the infection.

Jablonksi said because of the nature of the work, he expects other MTS staff will get sick. To reduce chances for infection, staff are being given hand sanitizer, masks and gloves whenever they are available.

"I won't kid you by saying it hasn't always been possible to maintain all the levels of protection we want," he said.

Riders are also being asked to board buses in the back, away from the drivers, and the buses are no longer accepting cash — only phone payments and Compass Cards.