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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bus rides in SLO and Morro Bay are now free

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 7:07 PM

There’s not a whole lot of positivity coming out of the coronavirus outbreak, but here’s one good thing: Bus rides in San Luis Obispo or Morro Bay will be free of charge for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

SLO Transit announced that as of March 23, its bus rides will be free to all riders until further notice. It’s common practice for transit systems to offer free rides during times of crisis, and according to SLO Transit Manager Gamaliel Anguiano, the move will make public transportation more accessible to those facing financial hardship while also discouraging behavior that might further the spread of coronavirus.

“We understand that public transit plays a vital role in helping specific community members get to and from home and essential services,” Anguiano told New Times.

With a statewide “shelter-at-home” in place, non-essential businesses across the state and throughout San Luis Obispo are closed or significantly limiting operations. Unemployment rates are spiking, and Anguiano said that while a single ride on a city bus typically costs only $1.50, anything helps in trying economic times.

Through its usual fares, SLO Transit is able to recover about 20 percent of its operating costs each year as required by the state. Some of that funding could be lost through the new fare-free model, but Anguiano said he isn’t worried.
The transit system has already significantly pulled back its operations by reducing hours and running fewer routes. During the college school year, Anguiano said he sometimes has 15 drivers working each shift. That’s dropped to about four to six for now.

Those changes are partly in response to lower ridership. With so many community members working from home and schools closed down, Anguiano said current ridership is about 75 percent less than it would normally be at this time of year.

“We view this actually as a positive in this scenario because people are only taking essential trips,” he said, which means people are taking social distancing seriously.

Public transit systems, which are often crowded and used by hoards of people every day, are always a concern during epidemics and pandemics like the COVID-19 outbreak. SLO Transit intensified its cleaning procedures in early March and has been encouraging its riders to use buses only for absolutely necessary trips and to practice social distancing while aboard.

The fare-free model is also in line with social distancing, Anguiano said. Bus drivers won’t have to take cash, tokens, or tickets, and won’t have to get too close to any passengers.

Morro Bay is also offering free bus rides until further notice.
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