Sitka’s RIDE, Care-a-Van Return, with Changes

Category: Local News
Created on Friday, 10 July 2020 15:46

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Staff Writer

After a four-month shutdown Sitka’s public transportation service will resume operation Monday with anti-virus precautions in place, officials said.

Service by the RIDE and Care-A-Van was stopped on March 20 to mitigate the coronavirus threat.  

Connie Sipe, transport program administrator at the Sitka Center for Community, said today that a key goal in the reopening of the transportation program is to provide safe service, and to evaluate ongoing needs from there.

“It’s a commitment that we are restarting service. And the side question is, what is the need? What is the demand? But we are committed to restarting the service,” Sipe said.

She noted that public transit in Sitka is a collaborative effort among the Center for Community; the Senior Center, which runs the para-transit network; and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, which operates the scheduled bus service, the RIDE. 

The RIDE and Care-A-Van buses will not look as they did when service shut down in March, Sipe said.

Plexiglass shields have been installed to protect drivers, and new measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include a face mask mandate and a regular cleaning schedule for the vehicles. Disposable masks and hand sanitizer will be available on the buses.

Community Ride Buses are parked off Katlian Street this afternoon. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

 

Sipe added that reducing risk is a high priority for local public transit.

“Everybody is trying to reduce risks. And that’s why the mask mandate is so important,” she said.

STA adopted the new safety protocols by resolution in June.

The buses and vans will be limited to half their passenger capacity in order to promote proper distancing.

“Some riders may be denied service when the bus is at 50 percent capacity. If a bus just passes by a stop, please understand the bus was at capacity,” a Sitka RIDE press release states.

Sipe said she expects the lack of tourists will keep the number of riders lower than in a normal summer.

“We think our regular riders will be back, (but) we think that some people who may have ridden will stay at home more,” she said.

While the state’s virus-related lockdown mandates list public transit as an essential service, Sipe said Center for Community shut down the RIDE in March largely out of concern for older and more vulnerable riders and employees.

“Everybody was in a shelter-in-place, staying home, not going out much. And we decided that it would be better for the sake of our drivers and the public that we shut down service,” she said.

One of the main additions to the buses is the plexiglass shield to protect drivers. She added that a bus is awaiting barge shipment from Tacoma with a variety of virus protection features.

Buses will be cleaned nightly, but Sipe said the cloth seats on the RIDE buses present a challenge.

“We’re going to be trying to clean the buses as well as we can,” Sipe said. “The Care-A-Van buses will be fogged with a disinfectant every night. The fixed route buses will not because we realized they have cloth seats and we don’t have long enough for them to dry,” she said.

Sipe noted that official guidelines for safe public transit are not set in stone.

“It’s like so many things – there aren’t clear guidelines. We have CDC recommendations for transit, they recommend that we should run the buses as less than full capacity ... It will be hard for the drivers to pass up somebody on the side of the road who they would like to pick up,” she said.

Along with various physical safeguards, the Blue Line route will no longer run all the way to the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, and instead will terminate at Whale Park.  With that exception, schedules and routes will remain as they were before the pandemic shutdown.

“We have to see what happens, how much ridership is back, what the demand is,” Sipe said.

More information is available at ridesitka.com. Care-A-Van rides are by appointment only, at 907-747-8617.