Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is limiting the number of riders on its buses to 10 or less in an effort to adhere to social distancing guidelines in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure went into effect March 20 and PSTA sent out a press release alerting the media on March 21. The transit agency said bus operators can radio in requests for additional buses if needed to keep passengers separated. PSTA will station extra buses at peak boarding locations.
“Usually we always thank people for choosing to ride transit,” said Brad Miller, PSTA CEO, “But of course, now everything has changed. I am hoping everyone practices social distancing and allows the buses to be used by only those who have no option but to use transit to get to essential work, medical appointments or the grocery store.”
PSTA had already removed its fares on all routes until further notice. Officials said it would reduce crowding by the fare box and limit exposure to passengers and bus operators.
Passengers also are asked use the back door to get on and off the bus. Those who need to use the ramp can continue to get on and off at the front door.
In addition, in accordance with guidance from the Florida Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to maintain social distancing, passengers are asked to space themselves out as much as possible after boarding the bus.
Starting Monday, March 30, PSTA is scaling back overall services by 40% by implementing Saturday hours of 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Officials say as more businesses close and travel is discouraged, reducing hours of service will allow more than 100 PSTA employees to stay home while still continuing to provide transportation to those with no other option.
PSTA had already suspended certain transit services due to cancellations, including the spring training baseball shuttles and Clearwater Beach spring break shuttle.
Masks and gloves have been distributed to bus operators for the past two weeks. Officials say the operator safety shields installed on most buses have helped in enforcing distancing between drivers and passengers.
PSTA is working to keep the buses clean and sanitized. Officials say that cleaning crews have tripled their efforts to disinfect all vehicles, terminals and facilities daily with high-grade sanitizers and multi-purpose cleaners.
Crews are focusing on hard surface, high-contact areas, such as handrails, doors, handles, windows, panels and seats and are cleaning them multiple times a day.
Sick people are advised to stay home. If they must ride the bus, they are asked to avoid close contact with others. All passengers are asked to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their upper sleeve, elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid touching surfaces when you can.
PSTA has canceled all board of directors meetings and committee meetings until April 14. Offices and administrative services remain open.
“At PSTA, we understand that this will impact the lives of many of our riders, and we sincerely apologize for challenges this may present,” officials said in the press release. “This is a unique time in our history, and we are adjusting, like so many public agencies, in order to keep people safe. As soon as public health officials give us clearance that it is safe, we will resume normal operational service.”
For updated information, visit psta.net or the agency’s Facebook page.
Suzette Porter is TBN's Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.