ITHACA, N.Y. –– Starting Friday, March 20, Tompkins County Area Transit (TCAT) is implementing increased safety precautions by putting fares on hold for three weeks and limiting the number of riders on each bus to 20 persons.

TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool said in a statement on Thursday that the new measures are intended to decrease the spread of disease on their buses.

Eliminating fares reduces skin contact with the farebox, and aims to reduce the time passengers spend close to the drivers, who sit adjacent to the box.

Vanderpool added that the other reason for eliminating fares is to offer relief to riders who are struggling to make ends meet.

“With the unemployment rate increasing day by day we know there are a number of people who have limited funds,” Vanderpool said. “We don’t want any of our community members to suffer from transportation barriers when they need to pick up their day-to-day essentials, such as food and medicine.”

Vanderpool said the new fare policy is set to be in place through April 9, adding that “any decision to avoid collecting fares beyond the April 9 deadline may well depend on circumstances that are way beyond our control.”

TCAT is implementing a “social distancing” plan by limiting the number of riders to 20 on each bus, which will also take effect Friday, March 20 and last until further notice.

“We have been evaluating ridership data and plan on adding backup buses for the routes that may potentially have more than 20 based on availability,” TCAT Assistant General Manager Mike Smith said.

Additionally, he noted that ridership has fallen drastically in recent days, but that some routes may still be heavily used by people needing to travel to pick up essentials.

Several transit agencies across the country are taking similar precautions. Some transit agencies are asking passengers to only use the rear door of transit buses to lengthen the distance between drivers and riders. But Smith said his team decided against this practice as it could prove unsafe, given the rugged terrain, including uneven pavement and low-visibility areas in parts of TCAT’s service area.

Earlier this week, due to low ridership, TCAT further reduced service starting Thursday, March 19 through Saturday, May 23, when TCAT’s spring service ends. The company announced the first round of service cuts on Monday, in addition to the closure of their Green Street Station indoor waiting area. 

Changes to routes could be ongoing, and riders are being urged to check public service messages on TCAT’s Bus Tracker and on the MyStop app before traveling.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com