The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) provides an essential 24/7 service to people who must get to medical appointments, the grocery store and essential jobs during the COVID-19 surge. RTA has decided to continue to collect fares in order to support this needed service, while at the same time working to minimize the spread of the virus among riders and operators.
I understand that many public transit systems across the country have temporarily suspended fare collection during the crisis, prompting questions about our decision. In many cases, suspension of fare collection has unfortunately resulted in an unintended consequence: People who otherwise wouldn’t be on public transit are choosing to ride simply because it’s free, including an uptick in continuous riders electing to take public transit for non-essential trips. The result of that is more people in a contained area – exactly the opposite of the recommended physical distancing.
Indeed, though some services may be temporarily fare-free, those transit systems now are faced with telling customers to stay home unless the trips are for medical or other essential reasons. In some cases, operators may have the added responsibility of asking customers to exit the vehicle because they are taking non-essential trips – resulting in more contact between operators and customers. We believe the payment of a fare is an important indicator that a trip is essential.
It’s also important that everyone understand that RTA simply isn’t in a financial position to waive fares. Fares and sales tax revenue play an enormous role in our ability to provide service to the public, which has decreased year over year, 2020 vs 2019. And because there is a three-month lag between when sales tax revenue is collected and when it is apportioned to RTA, we will not know the full impact of COVID-19 on sales tax until mid-summer 2020, when RTA receives the sales tax relating to March 2020 business activity.
If RTA is to continue to fulfill its mission for Clevelanders who depend on public transit, the system must continue to collect fares, even through these difficult times. Its very existence depends on it.
While we maintain fares, we also continue to reinforce the extensive safety measures we enacted to help keep our riders and employees healthy in the fight against COVID-19’s spread, including our daily cleaning and disinfection program and new ultraviolet disinfection system for all touchable surfaces and vehicles. On buses, we will continue to require customers to enter the front of the bus, remit fare, observe social distancing when selecting a seat, and exit from the rear of the vehicle.
We want to minimize contact between riders and RTA operators. Riders who must speak with operators must stand behind a yellow line to maintain a safe distance. We have allowed operators to wear masks at their own discretion, and have provided them for all front line employees. With the continuing spread of the virus, we have thousands of masks on back order for all our employees who have contact with the public. Because of the short supply and order fulfillment wait time, we have reassigned specific RTA department personnel to assist in the effort to produce fabric face masks and look forward to partnerships with sewing professionals in the community to help in that effort.
Linda Scardilli Krecic