CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids to suspend transit service beginning Wednesday

Ridership has been down about 70 percent from normal

Passengers walk to their connections or into the Ground Transportation Center in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday
Passengers walk to their connections or into the Ground Transportation Center in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, March 23, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Transit is being shut down effective Wednesday through at least April 13 to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Cedar Rapids officials said they recognize the difficulty the decision holds for those dependent on public transit as their sole means of getting around. Other services will continue, but have far less capacity.

“Suspending a service like transit is a difficult decision but it’s one we must make to help prevent a possible spike in the number of cases that could overwhelm medical facilities,” Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said. “We have been taking measures to regularly clean and completely sanitize all of our buses daily, but they are still confined spaces that fill with many people throughout the day. We are at a critical moment to prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19. It’s vital that we take the actions needed to protect our community.”

The city’s bus service had already taken steps to limit social interactions by suspending the collection of fares and asking riders to limit the number of people on a bus to 10 at most.

Cedar Rapids Transit service will continue on schedule Tuesday, then begin the suspension at the end of the day.

Linn County LIFTS and Neighborhood Transportation Service at Horizons will attempt to fill the void. Fares for the two services will be waived for now.

“We are not the city transit service,” said Mike Barnhart, chief executive of Horizons. “Our capacity will be much less.”

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Neighborhood Transportation Service, or NTS, will be expanding its service to provide daytime rides for those with critical employment transportation needs such as workers at hospitals, grocery stores, care facilities and gas stations.

To schedule a ride, residents should call 319-363-1321 at least 24 hours in advance.

For more about NTS services, schedules and regulations visit horizonsfamily.org.

Barnhart said NTS would have two buses out during the day with a capacity of four people to maintain social distancing recommendations. Staff were putting up plastic sheeting to divide the aisles and also separate the driver from the passengers. Nighttime service will continue normally, he said.

At this point, NTS would help those trying to get to work, but gaps remain for people needing transportation to get groceries or to get to the doctor, he said.

Linn County LIFTS Paratransit service will continue to provide rides to existing customers for essential services including medical trips, pharmacy, dialysis or grocery. All other people in need of essential medical transportation can contact LIFTS at 319-892-5170 to see if rides are available. Priority will be given to seniors and people with disabilities.

LIFTS, which typically serves about 300 people per day, will be operating a condensed service. The plan is to operate six to seven buses per day with a capacity of one or two people per trip to meet social distancing guidelines, an official said.

Officials said they do not know what the demand for service will be or how many people in the community lack alternatives.

Brad DeBrower, Cedar Rapids Transit manager, said ridership has been down about 70 percent from normal. In fiscal 2018, the service saw ridership of about 1.27 million trips. However, DeBrower noted some still riding were using the buses as a social venue since other places had been shut down.

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“There has been a fair amount of social use on the bus, which was critical to our decision to suspend our service,” he said.

In Johnson County, transit services continued to operate as of Monday but had taken steps to increase social distancing and improve sanitizing.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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