Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, public transportation has seen a large decrease in ridership due to public safety concerns and national attempts to mitigate risk. Compared to 2019, ridership dropped 9.9% nationwide in the first quarter of 2020, according to the American Public Transit Association. In Bloomington, however, public transit rates are even lower.
At pre-pandemic rates, Bloomington Transit serviced around 18,000 passengers a weekday. Now, ridership is in the single digits for IU Campus Bus and at 22% for Bloomington Transit, causing public transit facilitators to rethink normal operations.
Brian Noojin, IU Campus Bus director, said even though ridership is low, IU Campus Bus has taken extra safety precautions to keep drivers and passengers safe. It has implemented mask requirements, hand sanitizers and clear shields in front of drivers. The buses are also misted with disinfectant every night.
Noojin said students shouldn’t feel afraid to ride buses because they’ve increased bus frequency and experience low ridership, allowing students to sit far apart.
Although riding buses poses risks for students, Noojin said it’s important to consider drivers’ safety as well.
“I would ask students to show, if they would, a little appreciation for the drivers who are just dealing with a lot of stress right now with the circumstances,” he said. “They’re trying to do their best just to help the students and serve them in this transportation capacity.”
Lew May, general manager for Bloomington Transit, said IU students make up 70% of total riders during the fall and spring. Because of this, the pandemic has affected the way BT conducts rides and business generally.
May said BT implemented similar protocals as IU Campus Bus to keep drivers and riders safe.The city buses also provide masks for riders and offer free rides so riders don’t have to physically interact with drivers. May said these measures have been successful as only two employees have tested positive, only one of which being a driver. Because of this, BT intends to maintain these practices for the duration of the pandemic.
Regardless of fears regarding public transportation, May said he wants riders to know BThas done everything possible to ensure safety, as many rely exclusively on public transportation for travel.
“We understand that many people don’t have cars, they don’t have any other means of transportation other than public transportation and Bloomington Transit,” he said. “It’s important that they understand and know that we've taken steps for their health and safety and they can feel confident when they ride the bus.”
Though many classes are online and students may not feel the need to take campus or city buses very often, some feel it can aid new students in acclimating to the university.
IU junior Mark Mays lives on North Jordan Avenue. He said he’s always had to take buses living far from campus and suggests current freshmen do the same.
“Just by seeing the amount of people that are on campus, which is next to nothing, and the amount of people that are taking the buses, especially the B bus, I would feel OK taking the bus system,” he said.