WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Washington, D.C.-area transit system said on Monday it plans to extend its system of waiving bus fares, likely until spring 2021, as it begins plans for a gradual return to service from the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. transit systems have been hard hit by stay-at-home orders and seen a massive falloff in passenger use. Congress has approved $25 billion to help transit systems across the country and the U.S. Transportation Department awarded the U.S. capital region $1.02 billion in April.
In March, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) barred front-door entry to buses to protect drivers and waived fares. Passengers can only enter from rear doors, where there is no fare collection box. WMATA said it may eventually add rear entrance fare boxes.
The city is running Sunday schedules daily, with reduced operating hours, and has closed the lowest ridership stations. Rail traffic is down 95%, and buses more than 70%.
In the 2019 budget year, WMATA had 302 million passengers, including 124 million on buses.
In a presentation made public Monday, WMATA said demand for its service remained uncertain for the next 18 months but said it expected to begin resuming more normal operations and start collecting bus fares in spring 2021.
WMATA also hopes to double rail service sometime between August and October, which would mean trains would run about every 10 minutes, compared with the current 20 minutes.
Social distancing measures implemented by WMATA cut effective capacity by approximately 80% on rail cars and buses, including barring passengers from the first 10 seats to protect drivers.
Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien