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June 3, 2020
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Routes and schedules have not changed for 9 Town Transit in the face of COVID-19, though the service has made several significant accommodations to keep riders and staff safe. Photo courtesy of 9 Town Transit

Routes and schedules have not changed for 9 Town Transit in the face of COVID-19, though the service has made several significant accommodations to keep riders and staff safe. (Photo courtesy of 9 Town Transit )

9 Town Transit Continues Bus Service—with Some Adjustments

Published March 31, 2020

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While it hasn’t yet changed any bus routes or schedules, 9 Town Transit (9TT) is closely monitoring its services and ridership and doing its best to protect the health of its passengers and staff.

9TT provides bus services in Chester, Clinton, Deep River, Durham, Essex, East Haddam, Haddam, Killingworth, Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook, with connections to the New Haven, New London, and Middletown areas.

“We’re definitely seeing a decline in ridership,” said 9TT Executive Director Joe Comerford.

Those continuing to use the buses are running essential errands, such as grocery shopping, or getting to or from work, he explained.

“Every single day, we are looking at our ridership from the prior day and reporting that back” to the state Department of Transportation, Comerford said.

Some of the larger buses automatically count passengers and record where they get on and off. For other buses, information is provided by 9TT staff. Under normal circumstances, hot spots are found all along Route 1. These days, stops at grocery stores have the highest density of passenger movement.

Staff & Passenger Health

Buses are now disinfected every night, Comerford said, far more frequently than they are usually cleaned. Drivers are also supplied with hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray and wipes.

Whereas drivers used to come into the office to get their bus assignments, those are being distributed outside and the information the drivers need is placed inside the buses each morning.

Only three staff members, including Comerford, continue to work in the office; all do their best to maintain social distancing, he said. Others are working from home. The office is now closed to the public.

Most important, drivers have stopped collecting fares. On larger buses, the front of the bus has been cordoned off and passengers are entering and leaving the bus through the rear door. (The exception to this is for those who require the wheelchair ramp.)

On smaller buses, passengers simply get on and sit down, without having to stop, dig in their pockets or purses for change, pay the driver, or place the fare in the drop box.

Not only does this help to protect the driver, but “[i]t keeps the passengers safer, too, as they’re not as in close contact with the driver,” said Comerford. They’re not making contact with a fare box that’s been touched by other passengers, either.

“We want people to walk right on [the bus] and get to where they’re going,” he said. “There could be several people waiting at one stop. If they’re queued up to pay a fare, you’re putting passengers close together, too.”

There’s a potential downside to temporarily waiving the fare, however.

“Everything is closing, including homeless shelters,” said Comerford. “If people find out the buses are free, they can become a homeless shelter.

“In normal times, it’s one thing,” he continued. “But we don’t want crowds on the bus. It’s not safe for those people who need to ride.”

State & Federal Help

Not collecting fares puts an added burden on a service that’s already not profitable. Add to that increased cleaning expenses—not just for labor, but for the use of supplies—and the cost of providing this essential service begins to balloon.

“There’s nothing definite yet, but the state is collecting from us information on how much revenue we are losing as a result of this and we certainly expect that they’re going to make sure that we’re made whole in the end,” Comerford said. “I know that they are working on that.”

9TT also receives federal assistance and is hoping further federal funding will also be forthcoming.

Words to the Wise

In order to limit exposure as much as possible, Comerford asks that passengers use public transportation only for essential travel.

“If people are sick [or] they suspect that they might have contact with COVID-19 or think they might have it, don’t use public transit,” he added. “We don’t want to spread it to others or our staff.

“We are doing everything we can to keep our passengers safe,” he said.

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