CAPITAL REGION -- The Capital District Transportation Authority will be reducing the frequency of weekday service on most of its routes as it copes with the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has caused many riders to be laid off or work from home.
In recent days, the mass transit agency serving Schenectady, Saratoga, Albany and Rensselaer counties has seen weekday system ridership drop from about 60,000 riders to 35,000 to 40,000, said CDTA spokeswoman Jaime Watson -- and that was before Friday's order from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that all non-essential workers stay home.
"The most significant ridership reduction has really been in the last three days," Watson said late Friday afternoon, after the service changes were announced. "We expect it will go down more with the new order."
Starting Monday, CDTA will go to a modified weekday bus schedule that resembles the transit service's Saturday schedule, and will apply on all regular routes. In general, Watson said that means less frequency on most routes -- but some routes that service major medical facilities will start earlier in the morning.
STAR (paratransit) service, which uses smaller van-style vehicles and which is critical for people who need to get to medical and other urgent appointments, will continue on its regular schedule. The Northway Xpress commuter buses will also operate on their regular schedule.
"Service levels are being evaluated on a continuous basis and may be modified further as appropriate," CDTA officials said in releasing the new bus schedule.
Cuomo's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak has included a progressive series of workplace workforce reductions in recent days, starting at 50 percent on Wednesday, then 75 percent on Thursday. On Friday he said that all employees of businesses not considered essential should stay home. A broad range of businesses, however, are considered "essential," including all medical workers.
Cuomo said on Friday that people shouldn't use public transportation unless it is urgent and essential, but also said public transit itself is essential for getting hospital workers and others to jobs that are important during the epidemic.
In addition to routes that normally operate on Saturday, the modified schedule will add several routes that do not normally operate on Saturday but are important to service delivery, including routes to medical facilities and grocery stores.
“CDTA is an essential public service and we know that people are counting on us to be there for them during this unprecedented time,” said CDTA CEO Carm Basile. “We also know that emotions are running high, and there are lots of questions and concern. We want to assure employees and customers that we take our responsibility very seriously and are making determinations about service based on fact and guidance from New York state.”
Watson said the changes have been made in consultation with the regional hospitals that are major employers, including Albany Medical Center, St. Peter's Healthcare in Albany, and Ellis Medicine in Schenectady.
"We're being very responsive to the hospitals," Watson said. "We spoke to hospitals to make sure we're meeting their shift times. We are here to make sure health care workers can get their jobs."
Since public concern first arose about coronavirus a few weeks ago, CDTA has been thoroughly cleaning its buses more frequently, following guidance from the state Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control.
"We are using a deep cleaning liquid that contains a hospital-grade sanitizing agent," CDTA officials said in a press release. "Bus operators have access to disposable gloves and sanitizing wipes to do an additional wipe down of their work areas. We also have cleaners in the field doing wipe-downs of buses at layover areas, multiple times throughout the day."
While ridership revenue is down, Watson said there there has been no discussion about cutbacks with CDTA, and the authority is actively looking for other sources of revenue, including helping school districts deliver food to students while schools are closed as part of society-wide efforts to reduce the virus' spread.