Caution tape closes off seats on a Cherriots bus to guide social distancing. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

More than six months after Salem’s transit service started implementing safety precautions because of Covid and several bus drivers tested positive, Cherriots has re-opened nearly all its routes.

Service is back to 95% of what it was before the pandemic, minus one route dubbed the “library loop” that went past the Salem Public Library. That building is currently under construction for seismic upgrades.

But bus ridership remains low.

Cherriots spokeswoman Patricia Feeny said there are currently about 5,000 riders each day, less than half the 12,000 the transit service normally sees.

But she said ridership has been increasing incrementally since Cherriots shut down service completely for a week at the end of March after seven employees tested positive for Covid and dozens called in sick to work.

In April, about 30,000 people rode the bus. By July that number exceeded 100,000, Feeny said.

On March 18, Cherriots stopped collecting fares and told riders to enter through the back door to limit contact with drivers. Rides are no longer limited to “essential trips” only but there’s still limited seating on buses.

Operators are now shielded at the front of the bus with a protective screen. Feeny said no operators have tested positive for Covid since that safety precaution went in.

“One of the takeaways for us is the current practices we’ve implemented, those are here to stay. They will be part of our safety and health protocol going forward,” Feeny said.

She said the shields could allow Cherriots to begin collecting fares again, but the transit agency hasn’t made a determination of when that would be. Fares make up a small portion of Cherriots budget, with the bulk of the agency’s funding coming from property taxes and federal revenue.

Feeny said the transit agency is trying to focus on what recovery looks like. Right now, she said the number of riders is working because of limited capacity on buses.

“It’s really difficult to predict. We’re probably looking at a year to a two-year recovery,” she said.

Ian Davidson, Cherriots board president, cheered the return to service on Twitter writing: “This is huge. Seriously HUGE” on Sept. 15. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.

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