As orders from state and local officials came throughout the week closing businesses, restricting gatherings, and ultimately directing all California residents to stay inside their homes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Barbara’s transportation services have adjusted by reducing services and taking extra precautions to protect their passengers and drivers.
On March 11, The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District announced it was doing additional disinfecting of its 114 bus fleet nightly with hospital-grade disinfectant on all the high-touch surfaces.
While all bus services were initially running at a normal schedule, the following week SBMTD announced it will be lowering service levels on several lines associated with UCSB, SBCC and area Junior Highs and High Schools starting Thursday, in light of these schools ceasing campus operations.
While ridership has been “plummeting” over the past week, SBMTD spokesperson Hillary Blackerby said the big dip came when UCSB and SBCC closed their campuses.
“That’s a large part of our ridership,” said Ms. Blackerby.
Then came Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to stay home.
“It’s just continued to drop because of that. For once, we see a drop in ridership as a good thing,” said Ms. Blackerby, “We want people to follow those orders and stay home unless absolutely necessary.”
Starting Thursday morning, the following service changes will go into effect, until further notice:
- No Line 15x (SBCC/UCSB Express) service
- No Line 16 (SBCC Shuttle) service
- No Line 28 (UCSB Shuttle) service
- Line 27 (Isla Vista Shuttle) will operate on the “UCSB out” alternate schedule as published in the schedule guide
- No booster service to Junior Highs, High Schools, or Alpha Resource Center
This service mimics levels during Spring Break, when the school district and colleges are closed, said Ms. Blackerby.
UC Santa Barbara will still be accessible by bus on Lines 11, 24x, and 27, and the Santa Barbara City College area will still be accessible by bus on Lines 4, 5, and 17.
Santa Barbara Airbus has also made the decision to reduce services in light of the unprecedented disruptions facing the transportation industry.
Friday afternoon, Airbus announced it will suspend LAX shuttle service effective Monday, March 23 until further notice.
After 37 years of serving the Santa Barbara community, Airbus wrote in a press-release that “the thought of doing this is unimaginable” and that the decision was not made lightly.
“The health and safety of Santa Barbara Airbus’s customers and employees is our top priority,” said general manager Samantha Onnen.
“Our hearts are heavy with this decision and our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone afflicted by the spread of this disease.”
On the ride-sharing front, while there were plenty of Ubers and Lyfts available in downtown Santa Barbara Saturday, both apps greet users with a notice asking riders to only travel if they must to help keep drivers and the community healthy and to stay home if they are sick.
In their notice, Lyft said they have created an internal COVID-19 task force reaching out to drives to give them the latest CDC guidance on how to best protect themselves.
In addition they have partnered with EO products to distribute more than 200,00 bottles of hand sanitizer and other cleaning materials to drivers at no cost, and will notify drivers when they are available in their city.
Uber and Lyft will also provide financial assistance to drivers diagnosed with COVID-19 or put under quarantine by a public health agency.
“While ride demand is temporarily down, we’re actively expanding our services to include delivery partnerships with healthcare, government, and businesses to create new opportunities for those of you who are interested and able to drive,” wrote co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer in a letter to the company.
For now, those who would like to help neighbors get to grocery stores, workers to hospitals, and caretakers to their jobs can sign up for the LyftUp Driver Task Force.
While SBMTD has closed some of its lines, they are taking steps to allow for social distancing for remaining routes.
“We know that, like transit, there are other essential industries out there where people are still going to work,” said Ms. Blackerby, “We do want to be there for them if at all possible.”
SBMTD has announced all fixed-route service will be free of charge until further notice, and will have passengers without disabilities use the rear door of the vehicle for boarding and alighting to minimize contact with bus operators at the front door and farebox area.
“With the number of people taking the bus right now, it’s pretty easy to keep your six-foot distance,” said Ms. Blackerby.
Passengers using mobility devices or who need the ramp will be allowed to use the front door of the vehicle.
While SBMTD customer service representatives are still available over the phone at (805) 963-3366, no walk-up sales or person-to-person transactions of any kind will be available at Transit Center facilities or the MTD Administrative Offices.
In addition to help over the phone, the public is encouraged to contact MTD with any questions or concerns via the sbmtd.gov website, by emailing email@example.com, or through the agency’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts, all @santabarbaramtd.