Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit reported a 58% decline in total ridership in April, and fixed-route ridership fell 52.8% amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
Total ridership, which includes charter and paratransit passengers, declined to 11,628 in April, from 27,715 in the same month in 2019. The majority of ridership comprises fixed-route bus service, and this declined to 10,742 in April, from 22,744 in the same month in 2019. Over the same period, the average number of passengers per day fell to 488, from 1,034.
The last time average ridership fell below 488 was in the second week of January 2017, which was when a fire destroyed 20 buses and damaged one. Before then, the last time ridership came close to that number was Feb. 12, 2011, when it was 513, Executive Director Joel Gardner said.
Amid the health crisis, Gardner projected ridership numbers to remain static in May.
“As people get out and about, I can hope that they will increase and begin working back toward the pre-COVID ridership counts,” he said.
All of ORT’s bus routes continue to operate, and the transit provider has not laid off or furloughed any employees, Gardner said. It has 84 employees, including 64 drivers. The remainder comprises maintenance and administrative staff.
ORT recently started to require passengers to wear face coverings before boarding any ORT vehicle. Jeff Hatley, public information officer, said with the economy reopening, more passengers will be using public transit, and ORT wanted to “get ahead of any issues.”
In April, ORT was awarded $4.25 million in federal funding to pay for expenses related to the pandemic. In March, ORT started limiting the number of passengers to nine. Hatley said the passenger limit is expected to remain in place, but it will continue to be reviewed and could be revised.