HARLINGEN — Predictable as it may be, the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues to wash through the Rio Grande Valley, with Valley Metro’s bus service down 38.8 percent this April compared to last.
Overall, the transit system composed of Valley Metro, Brownsville Metro, Island Metro and Metro McAllen was off 26.4 percent from a year ago.
“This pandemic really took a toll on our ridership numbers,” Tom Logan, director of regional transit, said Thursday. “It’s well-justified, and I think the public were doing what they were told, which is shelter at home.”
The regional transit system was especially hard-hit by the closures of the Valley’s colleges and universities, which combine for a big portion of the system’s ridership.
“It’s a significant impact on our ridership because we do have a lot of students that use transit on a regular basis,” Logan said. “So we are almost at 30 percent due to students.”
Valley Metro had 42,276 passengers in April 2020, down from 75,604 a year ago.
But the worst may have passed. Logan says numbers for May, while as yet incomplete, show more passengers using the system so far.
“They’re increasing on a daily basis, we keep seeing an increase,” Logan said. “People are using the bus and they’re still following the recommendations of social distancing and wearing a face covering, and we’re very happy to see that.”
Valley Metro has instituted a number of changes in its protocols to keep its employees and the public safer in the age of COVID-19.
The transit agency has implemented social distancing rules, has issued protective gear such as gloves, masks and face shields to its employees, and has embarked on daily and hourly disinfecting of buses and terminal facilities used by passengers.
In addition, Valley Metro has cut back on some routes as well as hours, and has allowed some workers to work from home to lessen their chances of becoming infected.
Just how long these protocols will be in place, and how quickly ridership will rebound, isn’t known. But Logan is optimistic on a return to something resembling normal within a few months.
“I think we’re looking at a three-month curve,” he said. “We should be back to on track by late August. Hopefully, with a new semester and things going back to normal — the new normal — people will rely again on our services.”