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Need a ride? COVID-19 pandemic means getting one could be more difficult

The coronavirus pandemic has forced local public transportation agencies to make changes to service that could impact riders.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The rapid spread of COVID-19 coronavirus means some local transportation agencies are making changes to routes and scaling back some service, which could have a serious impact on riders.

"It's a unique way of life and we all have to work together to combat this thing,” said Stephanie Rank, public relations coordinator for PSTA.

Due to the pandemic, rides for PSTA passengers will be free. However, Rank said PSTA will be cutting service by about 40 percent starting on March 30. Buses will run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

RELATED: 'Drive-through' COVID-19 screening alleviates testing burden in Tampa Bay area

PSTA is giving bus drivers the power to limit the number of people who can ride. No more than 10 people at a time will be allowed on board, and riders must enter through the rear doors.

“If we still have people who are waiting to get on the bus and the bus driver says, ‘this is it,’ they are required to call dispatch and the dispatch will have another bus come pick up the rest of the passengers,” said Rank.

In Hillsborough County, HART spokesperson Carson Chambers said buses are operating on regular schedules, although she said the agency might reduce its levels of service depending on the latest COVID-19 developments.

HART’s TECO Line Streetcar has adjusted its hours to stop running at 11 p.m. due to bars and restaurants closing. HART has not eliminated fares for passengers but is offering free rides to students under 18 who need to get free meals offered by schools.

To protect drivers and riders, she also said crews sanitize HART’s fleet daily, and passengers will be asked to observe a staggered seating chart to help maintain proper social distance.

Spokespersons for both PSTA and HART said drivers will receive assistance and time to recover if they contract COVID-19.

All local transportation agencies are asking riders to limit their travel to essential trips only. “We've always been preaching, 'thank you for choosing to ride public transit,’ said Rank. “But now we're kind of saying, ‘we thank you for choosing transit, but please leave it to our essential riders,’ because we are still a lifeline for people to get to the grocery store to get to medical appointments to get to their places of work."

County-by-county information on route changes and policies:

Hillsborough: http://www.gohart.org/pages/maps-schedules.aspx

Manatee: https://www.mymanatee.org/departments/mcat

Pasco: https://www.pascocountyfl.net/243/Public-TransportationPCPT

Pinellas: https://psta.net/about-psta/news/articles/psta-response-to-coronavirus/

Polk: https://ridecitrus.com/

Sarasota: https://www.scgov.net/government/scat-bus-service/scat-covid-19-service

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10News WTSP. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@wtsp.com.

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