The coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on the popular West Chester Twp. commuter bus service that took about 9,000 riders a month to Cincinnati, but the route will be restarted beginning in March.
The Butler County Regional Transit Authority pays for the service and contracts with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (Cincinnati Metro) to run the West Chester Express bus route. Ridership nearly ground to a halt when the pandemic descended so the service was suspended, the buses will start running again March 8.
BCRTA Executive Director Matt Dutkevicz said more than 95% of the ridership “dropped off a cliff.”
“We actually kept running until June but we also have an arrangement with SORTA where we kind of have to true up, because part of what pays for that service are the fares,” said. “When nobody rides the bus they don’t get any fares. So it was starting to cut in where if we kept running that route we were going to owe SORTA money.”
He said they pay SORTA around $500,000 in federal grant money to run the service, but that amount doesn’t cover the whole cost. The $3.50 one-way fare must make up the difference.
“If they don’t make the fare revenue somebody needs to pay for that,” he said. “Since it’s our service and we pay for it, that would be us.”
Dutkevicz said they decided to restart the service because with coronavirus vaccines arriving things are opening up more, they surveyed some of their ridership and the fact Metro buses are back on routes was also a big indicator for them.
The buses leave from the Meijer Park and Ride on Tylersville Road and go to the central business district in Cincinnati, during rush hour in the morning and evening. Brandy Jones, SORTA vice president for External Affairs, said they had stopped all of their commuter bus routes at the height of the pandemic when everything was shut down but all routes are running now, with around 50% ridership.
She said every month all buses and hubs are sprayed with a disinfectant that kills the virus for 90 days. Masks are required at all times and they provide them to riders if necessary. The buses are equipped with hand sanitizer stations and plexiglass shields separate riders from drivers when they pay their fare. They also have a fare app so people can pay with their phones. Riders are encouraged to keep distance from fellow passengers.
BCRTA rides are still fare-free to keep distance between riders and drivers. Jones said they only offered free rides for a couple weeks.
“The mayor asked us to stop doing that as far as the free fare, because there was an increase of people riding presumably because the fare was free,” Jones said. “They felt that was causing more of a hazard. So we installed the plexiglass barrier between the driver and the rider.”