Public transit drivers, ridership down due to covid-19

34 public transit drivers out, three test positive; ridership down 75%; Burlington riders less likely to wear masks

By Guy Page

April 16, 2020 – The House Transportation Committee Wednesday discussed several thorny problems raised by the State of Emergency. 

Public transit drivers, riders down

34 drivers are out of work due to Covid-19 sickness or quarantine, AOT official Ross MacDonald told the committee. Three drivers have tested positive. Overall, public transportation has seen a 55% reduction in overall service hours, and a  72-75% decrease in ridership. “That does allow for the social distancing, in most instances,” MacDonald said. Demand response – that is, calling for a ride – is down by 80%. 

Green Mountain Transit (GMT) riders have dropped from 7,000 a day to 2,000 a day. “We’ve lost a lot of those commuters. Those that remain are the true needs riders for essential services. We can expect that to be consistent during the emergency services.” MacDonald also noted that “in Burlington, we’re seeing a higher percentage of people choosing not to wear face coverings.” 

In the interests of public health, GMT has instituted social distancing requirements limiting the number of riders on its buses (see graphic). This includes taping off seats. On the GMT Facebook page, rider Thomas Caswell remarked that this measure may be counterproductive: “don’t appreciate seeing some of the seats being blocked off, the front ones are already off limits and now there’s tape in the way of more, forcing people to either have to stand or sit together which we shouldn’t be doing, bad move!

“The existing ridership seems to reflect the true ‘essential’ riders,” McDonald said. Public transit workers are following best practices of sanitation and disinfection, he said. 

DMV won’t waive drivers’ ed driving requirements

The State Board of Education has been asked to waive its rule requiring drivers’ ed students to spend six hours driving with an instructor.

Rep. Dave Potter (D-Clarendon) taught drivers’ education for 40 years. “That’s the problem, schools closed, and drivers and instructors are closer than six feet together.” The State Board of Education is looking at a waiver during the crisis period. Not having the waiver “would work for some parents and students to do their things together, but without that six hours, there will be a jump in a number of failures,” Potter said. “Some kids need that six hours with an instructor, because it doesn’t come easy to them.”

The Dept. of Motor Vehicles refused to waive the student driving requirements, but is working on online learners’ permit testing, and allowing drivers’ ed teachers to administer the drivers’ license test. 

AOT tracking license plates entering Vermont 

AOT pickup trucks and plow trucks are being used to count out-of-state license plates as vehicles enter the border. Message boards telling visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days. There are also message boards out there.  Quashing a rumor circulating in the White River Junction area, AOT staffer Michelle Boomhower said “there is no plan to close the highways coming into the states using polow trucks or any other means.”

The mission is to count the number of vehicles for out-of-state license plates and which states they come from. This measures effectiveness of stay home / stay safe order. 

Rep. Patti McCoy (R-Poultney) lives near the New York State border. Summer homes on a lake have filled up considerably, and residents are concerned they will not self-quarantine for 14 days. Residents are glad to see the signs warning visitors to quarantine. Brian Savage (R-Swanton) also noted that second-home owners from Canada, New York and Boston have relocated in large numbers to his northern border town, which has a long lakefront highly populated with second homes. 

State, local highway repair staff frustrated by work restrictions

Boomhower added that all AOT employees are still receiving full pay. Most, however, are staying home. “Stay home / stay safe” order permits only state and local highway workers to do only emergency-related work, she said. 

Rep. Tim Corcoran (D-Bennington) said his local road officials are unhappy that they can’t clear or repair ditches – work that is essential to prevent highway damage. He wants the governor to tweak the order to allow this work. 

Committee chair concerned about construction restrictions

A single carpenter, working alone in an otherwise empty building, is not permitted to work under Stay Home Stay Safe orders, Chair Curt McCormack (D-Burlington) noted. “There is absolutely no construction allowed,” he said. “That seems unnecessarily broad…. that’s not necessarily transportation, but it could be.” 

McCormack didn’t expand on that speculation, but the housing/transportation connection seems fairly straightforward. The number and size of new homes under construction influence a community’s transportation needs.