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Ride The Bus, Only If You Must - And Don't Forget Your Mask

As marketing director for the CityLink system in greater Peoria, Emily Watson is accustomed to encouraging people to ride the bus. "I'm not used to saying, 'Please don't ride the bus,'" she said, referring to one of the district efforts during the COVID-19 health crisis. "We're asking people not to ride CityLink buses unless they have to due to the coronavirus," said Watson. In response to the virus, CityLink has undertaken a number of steps: reducing routes, asking riders to use the back door for entry and, starting March 17, the district stopped collecting fares. Watson said similar steps have been taken by other transit systems in the region including Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Rockford and Rock Island. On Wednesday, April 8, CityLink required all passengers to wear a face mask or alternative protective covering while riding or waiting at the Downtown transit center at 407 SW Adams St. Doug Roelfs, the CityLink general manager, said the face mask requirement came as a result of recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments. The service provided during the COVID-19 health crisis should be limited to essential trips only, stressed Roelfs. CityLink ridership is down 22 percent from the first of March to March 31, said Watson. "That's not as much of a decrease as we expected," she said, noting that other transit systems have seen much sharper declines in ridership. CityLink provided an average of 8,400 rides a day in 2019. "I think that shows that public transit is important here. You've got people who have to get to work, people who work in grocery stores and medical offices," said Watson. CityLink has made face masks and gloves available to bus drivers but is not mandating their use at this time, she said. No cases of COVID-19 have been reported by CityLink personnel at this time, said Watson. Efforts to sanitize buses have also been increased during the outbreak, she said. "The maintenance staff cleans the buses thoroughly every day. We will not send a bus into service unless it's clean," said Watson. As for maintaining social distancing on the buses, Watson said that was another reason for the face-mask requirement. "We noticed that, in some cases, people were gathered together too closely on the bus," she said. When waiting for the bus, passengers should adhere to social distancing and wear masks, said Watson, adding that district changes are in effect until further notice. She looks forward to the day when the district can restore regular service. "This is not a permanent situation," she said.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.