COVID, staffing shortages cause San Diego public transit woes
The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) is a crucial part of life for many in San Diego.
City Heights resident Rosa Bolanos and her family are some of the people who use the public transit system every day.
“We’re all the time on the buses because we have to go places: appointments, going to the food stamp place, taking them to the doctor because we don't have a car,” she said. “Especially low-income people don't have a car. We ain't rich like other people.”
The system is seeing lower numbers of riders since the pandemic began, about 65% to 70% of previous ridership, MTS spokesperson Mark Olson.
For people that are still riding, he said, MTS is facing a staffing shortage.
That’s going to cause a temporary reduction in service starting at the end of January. He said it would last until at least June when the organization will reassess the situation.
“The reduction in service could be from 15 minutes to every 20 minutes, or every 12 minutes to every 15 minutes,” Olson said, giving examples of the changes in service times San Diegans may see with public transit in the coming months.
“We are doing that on some key routes to basically make sure that we can have a dependable schedule for our passengers, so, when a bus is planned to come at a specific time, it really will come and we won't miss any trips,” he said.
MTS is taking COVID-19 health protocols seriously for riders and drivers alike, Olson added. He said the system had brought in larger buses to provide better opportunities for physical distancing in high-ridership areas such as City Heights.
But Bolanos said public transit had changed since the pandemic started. She said the buses and trolleys used to be nicer and now sees what she deems are health risks for her family.
“In City Heights transit center, they're doing their job. But other places with bus transit stations, they're not doing their job," Bolanos said. "They’re letting people on the trolley and buses sick, coughing with no mask — baskets, stinking up the place.”
She said she’d even seen people defecating on the trolley and bus.
From her experiences on public transit, Bolanos said the bus drivers have tried to enforce mask-wearing, but struggle to do so as they don’t want to approach people without facial coverings and risk catching the coronavirus.
“They let people with no masks on, they don't have people stay 6 feet away from us, and some bus driver gave us attitude and everything," she said. "It's crazy.”
People who have had negative experiences with MTS can file a complaint through one of the many online options, Olson said. He added that the system is in the midst of a hiring campaign to try to alleviate the current staffing shortage.