WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- As COVID-19 continues to spread, public transportation agencies are making difficult decisions.
Some leaders worry buses, for example, may become hotbeds for germs.
MET Transit gives about 1,300 rides a day on 10 fixed routes across Waterloo and Cedar Falls.
MET ParaTransit, which is a door-to-door service that helps older Iowans and people with physical limitations, gives about 250 rides a day.
General Manager Mark Little said he understands public transportation is an essential service. People are relying on buses to get around to the grocery store, the doctor's office, or work, which is why MET is choosing to operate their regular routes, knowing they'll likely have to make changes as the coronavirus pandemic evolves.
In an effort to keep railings, seats and other surfaces clean, maintenance crews are disinfecting each bus three or four times a day.
MET is also closing its front office and mailing out passes and fares to riders.
Little said in his 40-year-career, he has always encouraged people to ride the bus.
But that's changing as concerns over the coronavirus grow across the state.
Now, he's sending a new message to riders in the Cedar Valley: don't ride unless it's absolutely necessary.
"We know we have essential workers, your healthcare workers, maybe some folks that just need to get to work, so we know they need to use our services," Little explained. "But actually, if you don't need to, this is a time where we're saying, 'Please don't ride with us.'"
On crowded bus rides, social distancing is not always possible. People are often sitting close to each other, potentially spreading germs.
Ridership is down about 50%, which Little said is a good sign people are staying home and staying safe. However, he hopes to see that percentage grow a little more in the coming days.
MET Transit suggests consolidating your rides by doing everything in one trip, to limit exposure as much as possible.
Little said his drivers are on the "front lines" helping people in the community. That's why he's working with his staff to build barriers that provide protection but don't obstruct visibility. Currently, they're trying to make a model that would hinge, so drivers can be mobile. They'd like to install the barriers as soon as possible.
"This is something we're not buying, we're making [them]," Little said. "We're looking at plexiglass, easy to work with, easy to install."
If community spread becomes worse, Little said his team will evaluate their next steps. He said their last resort would be to suspend fixed routes and only operate ParaTransit, however, they are not at that point.
"Hopefully, we can continue running," Little said. "But as with every other business, we've got to just evaluate this on a day-by day-basis."
OTHER TRANSPORTATION CHANGES ACROSS EASTERN IOWA
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Jule bus system will go fare-free for fixed-route and minibus service until at least April 11, according to a city news release. Click here for more information. You can also visit the Jule's Facebook page by clicking here.
To limit the spread of the coronavirus, the city of Cedar Rapids Transit will suspend fixed-route transit service. Click here for more information.
Due to the coronavirus and in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, city buses will not charge riders. The city is also asking riders to enter the bus from the back door. They strongly encourage the public to limit travel to essential trips only. Click here for more information.