AC Transit suspended all fare payments March 23 until further notice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The public transit agency, which has continued to provide public transportation services to those who rely on it for access to essential activities during the pandemic, also implemented rear-door boarding on its buses to follow social distancing measures. Riders who require priority seating, ramps or mobility devices can still use the front door to board, according to an AC Transit press release.
“While operating, we are committed to the collective well-being and health of our riders and employees,” the press release reads. “This includes following social distancing measures. Customers are strongly encouraged to stay or sit 6-feet from other passengers and the bus operator when boarding, exiting and riding the bus.”
AC Transit also announced April 15 that it will begin imposing lower passenger thresholds on all buses currently in service to avoid overcrowding and to follow social distancing guidelines. The standard 40-f00t bus will only hold 10 passengers at a time, and the largest bus, the 44-foot double-decker coach, will only accommodate 24 passengers.
In addition to limiting the number of passengers on board, AC Transit suspended service for weekday-only local and Transbay lines. In a March 30 press release, AC Transit announced that it was experiencing large declines in ridership and fare revenue, with ridership for Transbay bus lines dropping by 90%.
“As an essential provider during the current COVID-19 pandemic, East Bay riders can still depend on our transit services for access to the life-sustaining resources of food, healthcare, and employment, especially to the most vulnerable in our communities,” the press release reads.
While AC Transit can offer a “No Fare Period” to its riders, BART is unable to do so for multiple reasons, according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison. Of BART’s operating budget, 60% comes from passenger fares, Allison added, and the transit system receives less funding in the form of subsidies than comparable systems do.
According to Allison, offering free boarding for BART would not increase protections for train operators against COVID-19 because they are already isolated from passengers. One reason AC Transit may have suspended fares, Allison added, is that fare collection equipment on most buses is located at the front next to the driver’s seat.
Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson said in an email that suspending AC Transit fares during the pandemic will provide benefits to both bus operators and people who rely on public transportation.
“Not collecting fees for AC Transit provides some valuable financial relief for essential workers getting to their jobs every day,” Robinson said in the email. “Most importantly, it limits interaction between our bus operators and the public and helps protect them from COVID-19 transmission.”