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Monday, April 6, 2020

Santa Maria Area Transit suspends fares, reduces route schedule

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 12:08 PM

Santa Maria Area Transit (SMAT) announced that as of April 1, and until further notice, fares for all SMAT services are suspended to encourage social distancing between transit drivers and their passengers.

“We do consider transit an essential service,” Transit Services Manager Austin O’Dell told the Sun. “We wanted to make sure that we’re providing a lifeline service and ridership.”
click to enlarge SERVICE ALERT Santa Maria and Lompoc city transit agencies are now offering shuttle service to make up for a loss in routes due to COVID-19 measures. Call (805) 928-5624 to schedule a SMAT shuttle. Call (805) 736-7666 to schedule a Lompoc dial-a-ride shuttle. - FILE PHOTO BY DAVID MINSKY
  • FILE PHOTO BY DAVID MINSKY
  • SERVICE ALERT Santa Maria and Lompoc city transit agencies are now offering shuttle service to make up for a loss in routes due to COVID-19 measures. Call (805) 928-5624 to schedule a SMAT shuttle. Call (805) 736-7666 to schedule a Lompoc dial-a-ride shuttle.


O’Dell said that passengers are being asked to enter at the back of the bus to avoid unnecessary contact with the driver. There are exceptions to this rule for people who are unable to enter this way.

“For those who are persons with disabilities or wheelchairs, who need a ramp, they can enter through the front and they will be secured in a wheelchair location just like any other time,” O’Dell said. “A person who needs priority seating at the front, they’d be able to be seated at the front of the bus.”

Because of the statewide stay-at-home order, O’Dell said SMAT has seen a decrease in ridership. As a result of that decrease, buses are now providing what would normally be weekend service for all days of the week, meaning the route schedule has been reduced. However, SMAT is providing a temporary shuttle service for those who need to travel outside of reduced service hours.

“You can call by appointment the day before and just say, ‘I need a shuttle,’” O’Dell said. “It’s bus stop to bus stop, as long as it’s between 5:30 to 8:30 in morning, and 6 to 9:30 in the evening.”

O’Dell also said that buses are thoroughly sanitized nightly and bus drivers are equipped with disinfectant to be used throughout the day on high touch areas.
While SMAT hasn’t faced an issue with driver shortages, O’Dell said that a few drivers who are part of vulnerable populations— such as those older than 65— are choosing to self isolate at home.

While SMAT only went as far as reducing route hours, City of Lompoc Transit (COLT) announced April 3 that “Local, fixed bus routes serving Lompoc, Vandenberg Village and Mission Hills will temporarily stop running effective Monday, April 13,” according to a press release. Instead, COLT will offer a dial-a-ride on-demand service by appointment only.



These new Lompoc services will continue to collect fares at the same rate as the usual fixed route services, and ride passes will still be accepted.

Additional changes include the Santa Barbara Shuttle—which normally runs once on Tuesdays and Thursdays—halting service beginning April 7. However, the Wine Country Express—a fixed route to Buellton—continues to operate on its normal schedule.

These changes come after multiple local organizations, including the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, called on Santa Maria City Council to suspend bus fares during the COVID-19 crisis. This demand was just one among many aimed at alleviating financial stress for Santa Maria residents affected by the repercussions of the virus. ∆
—Malea Martin
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