William Shephard rides a Cherriots bus to work on Friday, May 22. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

After ridership plummeted at the start of the pandemic, more people are venturing back on to Salem’s bus service.

In June, 87,000 people boarded a Cherriots bus for its local ridership service, a rebound from the month prior which saw 54,529 people riding the bus. But it’s still about a third of the ridership seen before widespread closures and mask mandates. .

On March 31, Cherriots took the rare move of suspending its bus service on March 31 after several employees tested positive for the virus. After resuming service on April 7, Cherriots saw only 27,196 people board  local buses in April, a steep drop from the 292,683 riders in January.

“Up until March, we were seeing really great ridership increases,” said Cherriots senior planner Chris French who presented the figures to the transit agency’s Citizens Advisory Committee

Currently, Cherriots is at 80% of its service capacity and is looking to bring it back to 100%, he said.

“We're still limiting the number of people on the bus,” he said. He added “But over time, (ridership) will grow. And as we monitor employees and our ability to maintain service that's reliable, we will continue to increase the level of service.”

The transit agency has seen similar trends for its regional service. In January, over 9,417 people used the service, which dropped to 1,525 in April before rising to 2,460 in May. Numbers for June were not presented.

The committee discussed how to bring ridership back. David Trimble, deputy general manager and chief operating officer, noted that the agency faces uncertainty with the possibility of schools not reopening and workers continuing to telecommute.

Mitchell Juul, a student at North Salem High School who serves on the committee, said that many students are dependent on the bus as well as their families. He said Cherriots needs to make sure that social distancing is encouraged and riders wear masks.

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Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.