Correction, July 28, 2020: The story headlined “Yuma County Area Transit hit hard by pandemic,” published on the front page of the Tuesday edition of the Yuma Sun, incorrectly stated the number of YCAT employees who have gotten ill with COVID-19. The story should have said that 7 out of 50 employees have become ill. The Yuma Sun apologizes for the error, and this version has been corrected to reflect the correct information.

The Yuma County Area Transit system has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with daily ridership dropping from 2,000 to 500.

Transit Director Shelley Kreger updated the Yuma County Board of Supervisors on the status of the public transportation system during a Monday meeting.

In response to the coronavirus, YCAT closed its offices to the public and instituted cleaning protocols which included cleaning high-touch areas on the buses and bus shelters throughout the day and having all vehicles fogged nightly.

To comply with social distancing, the capacity in buses was reduced to every other seat. YCAT is currently receiving quotes on driver shields to be installed.

Passengers are required to wear face covering, and all drivers and utility personnel were provided with face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

YCAT ceased to operate Silver Route 9 due to the closure of schools and Arizona Western College and reduced service to a modified Saturday schedule.

COVID-19 EFFECTS

Kreger noted that service hours have been reduced, leading to a reduction of 70% ridership and loss of revenue.

At the same time, expenses related to the cost of personal protection equipment, cleaning supplies, third-party fogging of vehicles, and administrative paid time off due to COVID-19 illnesses and exposure went up.

The Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees the transit system, has had three of its seven employees become ill with the virus. All have or are recovering.

YCAT which has 50 employees, had seven become ill, with six employees having recovered and one resulting in death.

YCAT SUCCESSES

In spite of the recent difficulties due to the pandemic, YCAT also has experienced some successes. It received $8.2 million in CARES Act funding.

The transit system purchased five new Gillig 40-foot diesel buses in 2019, two 14-passenger 2019 cutaways and three new utility service vehicles. Three 2020 14- and 26-passenger cutaways will arrive any day.

A new fare collection system/vault and automatic passenger counters were installed. Staff no longer counts cash, and they don’t need to touch money, Kreger said.

Vehicles were upgraded with the Nextbus tracking system, and bike racks were acquired for the entire fleet. Motorola discontinued service on the old radios, forcing the agency to buy new radios for the entire fleet.

YCAT has routes serving Yuma County, Winterhaven, El Centro and the Cocopah and Fort Yuma reservations. It has two major transfer points, one at the Yuma Transit Center (Hotel Del Sol) and West Yuma Transfer Center (Walmart on 26th Street and Avenue B).

It has a fleet of 28 revenue service vehicles, including 40-foot heavy duty buses to smaller ADA accessible cutaways. The YCAT Vanpool program, along with Commute with Enterprise, consists of 35 vehicles in which YCIPTA provides a $300 a month subsidy for each vehicle.

WHAT’S IN THE FUTURE?

Kreger explained that YCAT will continue to purchase additional revenue vehicles as the fleet approaches the end of their useful life.

The transit service will also continue to assist Yuma with the BUILD grant with the goal of renovating the Hotel Del Sol into the new multimodal transit center.

The organization has bought property for future construction of an operations and maintenance facility. It will be installing more bus shelters throughout Yuma County and completing the Short Range Transportation Plan.

YCAT plans to add a route to service the Marine Corps Air Station and will be forming a Community Transportation Committee.

In addition, YCAT is seeking a future connection with Valley Metro in Gila Bend. However, Supervisor Russell McCloud voiced concerns with subsidizing competition against a private enterprise, in this case Greyhound.

“That should not happen, in my opinion,” McCloud said.

“Unless Greyhound can’t provide service at the times you need it,” Chairman Tony Reyes said, noting that he understood McCloud’s point, but he believes convenience sometimes overrides private enterprise, for example, in this case, if Greyhound can’t provide service at convenient times. “It’s not a matter of competing, it’s a matter of giving more service.”

Kreger noted that Greyhound has a couple of daily routes, going east and west, once in the middle of the day. Tickets are sold out of the YCAT office.

Reyes pointed out that the transit system has come a long way, starting with vans delivering people to their doctor visits and growing to a fully functional public transportation system. He said he remembers when it was just an idea and always thought it would have to be heavily subsidized.

“I am pleasantly impressed,” Reyes said.

He also commended the YCAT/YCIPTA staff for overcoming obstacles, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and adjusting to the circumstances.

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