Linda Hilley was riding C-Tran’s Vine bus-rapid transit line Wednesday from Vancouver Mall with three of her 14 grandchildren.
All four wore masks and had hand sanitizer close by, part of the new normal during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Hilley said she is watching the three youngsters “until who knows when,” with schools closed and their parents working jobs in the Portland area.
“I’m a little unnerved, but I am not scared,” she said.
Other passengers riding The Vine said they were less concerned about COVID-19, an illness that has killed at least 74 people in Washington, including three in Clark County.
“If I get it, I get it,” Shannon Malone said.
C-Tran is continuing to provide full service during the closure of schools, stores, gyms, theaters, bars, coffee shops and restaurants, except those offering drive-thru, takeout or delivery service.
“They’re blowing it way out of proportion,” Malone said.
“It’s just another virus,” said Alondra Schoa, a Portland resident who sometimes stays in Vancouver.
Schoa said she has “no concerns” about becoming ill with COVID-19 after riding public transit, despite people frequently getting on and off the bus and touching poles, straps, seat backs and other areas.
“I don’t really have another way to get around,” she said.
Edward Mesisca of Vancouver said he rides the bus regularly and is not the type to panic or run scared.
“I go out and do what I have to do,” he said.
Mesisca said he has seen a drop in people on C-Tran buses since public health officials started urging people to avoid large crowds and practice social distancing by staying 6 feet apart.
Kevin King is another C-Tran rider who said the new coronavirus hasn’t caused him to change his routine.
“It ain’t bothering me,” he said. “And I ain’t going to bother it.”
C-Tran experienced a 4.5 percent ridership drop during the first 17 days of March, compared with the same time period in February.
The biggest decline, 20.5 percent, was in paratransit, which provides door-to-door service for passengers with disabilities who have difficulty riding fixed-route buses.
“Paratransit users are our most medically vulnerable demographic,” said Christine Selk, C-Tran’s communication and public affairs manager. “So that drop is not surprising, given that many are self-isolating during the health crisis.”
Commuter service to Portland experienced a 5 percent decrease during the same period.
“The commuter drop is also unsurprising,” Selk said, “due to the fact that so many of these riders are working from home, either by choice or by employer mandate.”
C-Tran experienced a bigger ridership decline, 7.5 percent, for the week of March 8-14, compared with the first week of March. Commuter ridership dropped by 11.6 percent during the same period.
So far, the transit agency doesn’t intend to reduce service until it has data showing a larger decrease in demand.
“We’re able to implement things quickly,” Selk said. “But we want to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons, so we are going to want some numbers and solid information.”
Selk said her agency is looking every day at its routes and discussing how to maintain service for “our most vulnerable population.” That group includes seniors, people with disabilities, children and residents whose only transportation source is transit.
“Many people depend on us to get them there,” she said.
Selk declined to speculate on which services could be trimmed first if ridership takes a deep dive.
Last week, C-Tran put up posters on most of its buses reinforcing core messaging about COVID-19: Wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your face and stay home when sick.
C-Tran cleans its buses nightly. That includes using antibacterial wipes on “high-touch areas” around seats and poles and straps used by standing passengers, Selk said.
“We are keeping them on that same schedule,” she said. “We have always kept clean buses, and we are going to continue to do that.”
The agency also has employees who do spot cleaning on buses during layovers at the 99th Street, Vancouver Mall and Fisher’s Landing transit centers, she said.
C-Tran encourages its riders to take common-sense steps, such as practicing social distancing with drivers and other passengers, she said.
“We want to play our role in keeping people safe while balancing it with our important mission of getting people where they need to go,” Selk said.