As COVID-19 infection rates plateau and Gov. J.B. Prtizker’s stay-at-home order enters its eighth week, the Pace suburban bus transit agency continues to reduce service and the western suburbs won’t escape the upcoming round of cuts.
Effective May 18, Pace will suspend 15 routes and reduce service on 21 routes due to low ridership.
Locally, Route 302, which serves Brookfield and Riverside via Ogden Avenue and provides links to the LaGrange Road and Congress Park Metra stations; the Harlem Avenue, Oak Park Avenue and LaVergne Metra stations; and the CTA Pink Line will operate on its Saturday schedule on weekdays, beginning May 18.
Although ridership data for individual routes for the last three months isn’t available, Pace indicated that, as of May 7, its ridership dropped by 67 percent. The transit agency emphasized that those changes will only last during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the stay-at-home order was first announced, Pace kept its services in place, but as the weeks went on, it suspended service on a significant portion of workplace commuter shuttles and other express services. Pace has also been putting in measures to improve safety.
On most buses, some seats were closed off to encourage social distancing. Most recently, it followed the CTA in asking riders to board buses from the rear door to reduce the risk of drivers getting infected. Since the Ventra card scanners are located by the front door, Pace, like the CTA, suspended fares and allowed passengers to ride for free.
As of May 7, nearly 40 Pace employees had been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Pace data available on its website. That includes three bus drivers and one maintenance employee who worked in the West Division, which serves west suburban routes.
Maggie Daly Skogbakken, a Pace spokeswoman, said drivers usually operate around 13 routes a week within each division, so it was hard to say whether any of the three drivers had driven buses on any routes within the Landmark’s coverage area.
But Skogbakken said that Pace is operating under the assumption that any driver can potentially be asymptomatic, which is a protocol based on a guidance by the Illinois Department of Public Health. That is why the transportation agency implemented rear boarding and put up barriers between the drivers and riders, she said.
Skogsbakken added that, before the pandemic, Pace already ordered buses that have built-in vinyl shields, similar to what CTA has on many of its buses. And it has installed vinyl barriers separating the front door boarding area and the rest of the bus.
In addition, all Pace employees have their temperatures taken when they report to work, all buses are thoroughly cleaned at least once a day and drivers get cleaning supplies to wipe down services in between runs.
“I genuinely don’t feel that an asymptomatic operator who operated [any] route has the high likelihood of transmitting [COVID-19] to any passenger,” Skogsbakken said.
Skogsbakken said that the changes to the routes were due entirely to low ridership and the agency’s desire to allocate resources to busier routes. She said that ridership on suspended routes had plunged to single digits and said Pace has been adding vehicles to its busiest routes to help ensure social distancing.