LOWELL – Local transit authorities were deemed essential by Gov. Charlie Baker and will remain in operation, but with some service changes.
The Lowell Regional Transit Authority announced that beginning Thursday, all weekday buses will operate on a modified Saturday schedule. Weekend schedules will remain the same.
“Our ridership over the past week has dropped precipitously,” LRTA Administrator Jim Scanlan said. “It really wasn’t a good option to continue to run buses every half hour… when there wasn’t the ridership to warrant it,” he continued.
Buses will now depart roughly every hour starting between 6 and 7 a.m., depending on the route. The downtown shuttle will depart every 30 minutes beginning at 5:45 a.m. Routes 1 and 8, 3 and 4, and 6 and 9 will be combined to form three routes.
“We felt it was better for the employees, and we felt it was better for the customer,” Scanlan said.
Scanlan does not believe the altered schedule will lead to more crowded buses. If that is the case, he said adjustments will be made.
“We will have a couple of spare drivers on hand if it turns out a route or so has more people than we think it should have on it,” he said.
The LRTA urges passengers to board buses from the rear and sit six feet apart. Seniors and those with disabilities can still board at the front if necessary. Drivers will not enforce fares while these precautions are in place.
Weeks ago, the LRTA ramped up its cleaning procedure to prevent spread of the virus. “I think we’re as diligent… today as we were when we started this,” Scanlan said.
Fixed-route buses are treated once per day with an electrostatic mister, which dispenses chlorinated disinfectant. Drivers also disinfect the buses throughout the day with Lysol spray.
At the Charles A. Gallagher Terminal, frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, railings and counters are disinfected three times daily, according to a written procedure. All surfaces in the terminal are cleaned twice weekly with an electrostatic mister.
Dunkin’ decided to close its coffee shop inside the terminal on Tuesday, Scanlan said.
The Montachusett Regional Transit Authority has also reduced services to protect drivers and passengers from the virus.
The following services have been suspended until further notice: Route 11, the intercity bus, the Boston and Worcester shuttles, the Littleton/Westford commuter shuttle, and the supplemental bus (Tripper) service.
On March 19, the Devens regional shuttle moved to an on-demand service, and the Wachusett shuttle was reduced to four runs per day.
Route 6 will no longer stop at Fitchburg High School, and the Fitchburg State University supplemental shuttle has been suspended for the rest of the semester. Route 4 will run according to summer service hours — once every hour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
MRTA ridership has fallen by about 50 to 60%, Deputy Administrator Bruno Fisher said. He does not believe the reduced service will cause over-crowded buses.
The MRTA requests that all riders — with the exception of those who need to use the ramp — board and exit at the rear of buses. The buses will run fare-free to limit contact with drivers.
Buses and vans are disinfected two to three times a day, Fisher said. “What we’re doing is kind of swapping buses in and out” to be cleaned, he said.
The Fitchburg Intermodal Center is cleaned twice a day, and surfaces such as door handles and benches are disinfected throughout the day.
MRTA buses are needed by essential staff who commute to work and those who use public transportation to grocery shop, Fisher said. “There are quite a few people that still need to get to medical facilities,” he added.
Fisher encourages riders to cover coughs with an elbow or tissue and sit a safe distance away from other passengers.