Ozark Regional Transit buses will limit passengers amid COVID-19 pandemic

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 2,312 views 

Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit announced Thursday (March 26) it will comply with a state directive on social distancing and limit the number of people on its buses to 10 — nine passengers and a driver.

The Arkansas Secretary of Health on Thursday issued the directive in light of the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, pandemic and prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people in any confined indoor or outdoor space. The directive, which includes several exceptions, will remain in place until further notice.

ORT will start to comply with the directive starting Friday (March 27). ORT buses will be limited to nine passengers, with the driver as the 10th person on board. When a bus reaches capacity, the driver will notify the prospective passengers of the limit and tell them to wait for the next bus.

The directive only impacts ORT’s fixed routes and doesn’t affect its paratransit, demand response or on-demand services. ORT offers nine fixed routes, with one in Bentonville, three in Fayetteville, three in Springdale and two in Rogers.

Razorback Transit, which operates in Fayetteville, has been operating with seven routes since March 19, and six of the routes are operating at a reduced frequency.

Joel Gardner, executive director for ORT, was uncertain how the directive would impact ridership. So far this week, he said ridership had fallen by 36%. Last week, ridership was down between 15% and 20% amid the pandemic.

“We are still running at full strength for the buses and the routes,” Gardner said. “We will not modify buses or routes unless mandated by the cities we serve.”

Passengers in Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville can ride ORT buses without a fare. Recently, Rogers was the second U.S. city to receive on-demand transit service and the first to offer it without a fare.

The new state directive includes several exceptions, including gatherings of at least 10 people in unenclosed outdoor spaces, such as parks, trails, parking lots and golf courses where social distancing of at least six feet can take place. It also excludes businesses, manufacturers, construction companies, places of worship, the Arkansas General Assembly, city and county governing bodies, or the judiciary. But the previous are advised to limit contact with others and to maintain social distancing of at least six feet to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Arkansas, the number of COVID-19 cases rose from 280 on Wednesday to 335 as of early Thursday afternoon. Two deaths were reported Tuesday and a third was reported Thursday. Globally, there were 511,603 cases of the virus and more than 23,000 deaths.