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LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

MTS Considering Service Cuts As Coronavirus Causes Ridership To Plummet

Seats on an MTS bus are empty, March 19, 2020.

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: Seats on an MTS bus are empty, March 19, 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic keeps many in San Diego County home from work and school, ridership on buses and trolleys is plummeting and forcing Metropolitan Transit System officials to consider significant service cuts.

MTS officials say the system will keep its regular bus and trolley schedules at least through the end of March, but going forward they are preparing to implement temporary cuts to keep costs under control.

At the regular meeting of the MTS board on Thursday via conference call, CEO Paul Jablonski told board members the shuttering of workplaces and schools was taking a serious toll on ridership.

"I think we haven't seen the bottom yet," he said. "My guess is that overall it's probably approaching 40%."

Reported by Andrew Bowen , Video by Roland Lizarondo

Agency staffers are preparing to switch routes over to Saturday schedules, when buses and trolleys come less frequently, with added service for morning commute times. Jablonski said MTS has roughly $35 million in reserves that it can dip into, and that it would likely reduce the hours of its workers, rather than lay people off, so service could get back to normal quickly.

"Our buses and trolleys are taking our most vulnerable residents to critical services, and first responders, grocery store employees, nurses and other healthcare workers to their jobs when we need them the most," Jablonski said in a news release. "Regardless of service levels, we will continue to sanitize our system daily using cleaners recommended by the CDC."

The situation facing MTS mirrors that of transit agencies across the state. North County Transit District announced Thursday it was suspending trips on the COASTER rail line in response to falling ridership. In Northern California, Bay Area Rapid Transit has measured a ridership drop of 90% on its commuter rail system and has already reduced service hours.

Transit advocates in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. are pushing for emergency funding to support transit systems, many of which were already suffering from declining ridership.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

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Photo of Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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