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Carroll Transit System suspending two routes due to low ridership

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to temporarily shut down two of Carroll County’s TrailBlazer public transportation routes because of low ridership brought on by COVID-19 closings.

Carroll Transit System will suspend service for the second of two Westminster purple routes and for the red route that serves the South Carroll area, effective April 5, after the commissioners’ vote during Thursday afternoon’s open session.

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Stacey Nash, the county’s transit grants manager, said during the meeting that Carroll’s red commuter route was created with Carroll Community College students in mind. The route traveled is about 250 miles per day, and with many of the college’s classes being fully virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an average of just eight trips per week for a cost to the county of about $225 per trip, Nash said.

There are two purple routes, which serve medical buildings and shopping centers in and around Westminster, meaning one TrailBlazer bus leaving every 30 minutes. With services limited, particularly in medical buildings, the second of the routes was also seeing about eight trips per week. So each was costing about $180 per trip. After the suspension, buses will leave every 60 minutes.

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“Ridership isn’t great for any of our routes, but these two are the least effective right now and are both due to the college and medical buildings still being closed,” Nash said. “We don’t want to eliminate these routes, we just want to suspend them until ridership comes back.”

All riders may continue to call Carroll Transit System and schedule “demand response” rides while these two routes are suspended, according to a news release from county government. Nash said that based on the demand response needs, transit personnel will know when ridership is picking up and, would be able to return to the commissioners to ask to lift the suspension of the routes.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, suggested it might be a better solution to suspend both purple routes.

Nash said the estimated the per-trip cost for that purple route to be $80. After a brief discussion, everyone agreed and the commissioners initially voted to suspend both purple routes. But later during the session, Nash and Director of Public Works Jeff Castonguay returned to the virtual meeting and asked the commissioners to suspend only one of the purple routes, after staff reevaluated the consequences of suspending both.

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Castonguay said that while transit must consider the financial aspects of low ridership, staff also must “take into account our customers ... and who it really impacts.”

After reevaluation, Nash told commissioners they were concerned about what the effect on customers of closing both purple routes would be. She added that the purple route is the only route that goes to the Westminster Senior Center and that while demand response could fill a need for those customers, the purple route is the better and cheaper way to get there.

The commissioners voted unanimously on the new motion, suspending only one of two purple routes.

Demand response service

Effective Monday, Carroll Transit System will offer an enhanced fare account feature for riders who use the demand response service, according a county government news release. This new feature will allow customers to “pre-load” funds into their fare accounts to use for all scheduled rides.

In addition to the driver accepting cash and tickets, this internal account allows riders to deposit funds ahead of time by sending cash, checks or using a credit card (for a fee) for demand response rides. CTS will add the funds into the fare account and as the rider schedules trips, the account will decrease by the cost of the ride. If using this system and keeping a sufficient balance in the account, cash or tickets will no longer be required to ride as transportation will be pre-paid.

At this time, these new fare accounts are only available for demand response trips.

The release also issued a reminder that, to continue preventing the potential spread of COVID-19, buses are restricted to 50% maximum capacity to allow for appropriate physical distancing. All CTS drivers and riders must follow the governor’s orders that require a mask or facial covering to board a CTS vehicle. Facial coverings must stay in place for the entirety of the trip, including entering and exiting the vehicle.

For more information, visit www.carrolltransitsystem.com or call 410-386-5550.

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