Metro bus headed to Watsonville
A METRO bus in motion.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID Economy

$13.5 million in COVID-related aid en route to pandemic-ravaged Metro bus system

‘This additional funding will go a long way in heeding possible layoffs and service reductions,” transit agency leaders said in a statement.

As ridership continues a downward slide because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District announced some positive news Tuesday: It’s getting a multimillion-dollar piece of the federal stimulus pie.

In all, the bus system will receive roughly $13.5 million through the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Economy Watch

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“This additional funding will go a long way in heeding possible layoffs and service reductions and allow Metro to continue providing an essential service to our community,” agency leaders said in a statement.

Between stay-at-home orders, remote work and the absence of college students, Metro buses have been nearly empty for months, Lookout recently reported.

The number of people getting on buses every week is down by nearly 80% compared to this time last year, and revenues were down by $1.3 million as of New Year’s Eve, according to preliminary estimates.

At its lowest point, in April, there were only 7,000 Metro passengers per week, a huge drop from 125,000 rides per week in March 2019. The pattern of ridership on county buses in 2020 closely followed the pattern of the economy: lockdowns meant activity would decrease, and reopening would create an uptick in Metro usage.

A big part of the problem is that Metro’s most frequent customer base — students at Cabrillo College, UC Santa Cruz and other educational institutions — has all but evaporated. Students make up 60% of the bus system’s riders, but with schools closed, that reliable base is gone.

Amid the downturn, the transit system has been working to become more modern and tech-savvy to riders. Among other things, it is expanding service on some routes and is developing an app that not only shows bus schedules, but how full buses are.