Ridership on Orange County’s bus routes has plummeted nearly 60%, and use of the Orange County Transportation Authority’s ride service for the disabled has dropped 85% since the coronavirus pandemic began, OCTA board members were told Monday.
OCTA officials expect a significant drop-off in revenue, as well, over the coming months.
“It’s going to take several months before we get any sales tax information,” OCTA Chief Financial Officer Andrew Oftelie told board members, who held their regular meeting via teleconference call instead of in person to comply with social distancing recommendations.
“But the information we are receiving is not good,” Oftelie said. “Our top sales tax producers all had to shut down.”
Orange County’s sales tax revenue is generated by restaurants, tourism, hotels, theme parks and conventions, he noted.
“They are almost all completely shut down,” Oftelie said.
Starting Monday, the agency reduced its bus route service to the level it usually provides on Sundays, which is 40% less than the regular schedule. The move was made in response to the drop in demand and to minimize the risk to drivers of catching the coronavirus, OCTA officials said.
Last Thursday, the agency’s buses recorded 49,929 boardings, a drop of 59% from the first two weeks of March. The agency typically averages about 125,000 boardings a day.
The agency is cleaning the buses every night with an antiviral disinfectant and have heightened cleaning of surfaces that are often touched.
The agency’s OC ACCESS paratransit service recorded 741 boardings on March 19, a drop of 85% from the first two weeks of March. The service, which is made by appointment, will continue to operate at normal levels.
The new OC Flex zone in Huntington Beach and Westminster has been suspended because of the drop in ridership. On March 19, only 17 passengers used it, which was a reduction of 58%.
The only silver lining for OCTA was a boost in construction projects on the San Diego (405), OC Streetcar and Santa Ana (5) Freeway improvements because a drop in traffic during the pandemic allows for longer work hours, OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson told board members.
“This virus is something that goes beyond any jurisdiction or boundary or organization,” said board member Miguel Pulido, who is also Santa Ana mayor. “We all have to pull together to lead us to a solution, but I believe in Orange County, in particular, that working together we might be able to lead other regions in cooperation.”
Pulido said other mayors throughout the state have been experiencing “major problems” combating the coronavirus’ effects.
“Here in Orange County I believe that if we can somehow get more testing,” it could help stem the tide of the pandemic, Pulido said. “Getting our operators tested as soon as we can would be a good thing.”
Pulido noted his city is the fourth densest in the country.
“We see what’s going on in New York and they have tremendous density and that’s part of the problem,” Pulido said. “So we’re trying to pull people out of the parks. Ten isn’t even a good group. We’re trying to get them down to two or zero. If we have a big outbreak in the city, it will hurt not only the city, but the whole county.”
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, who is also an OCTA board member, said the pandemic “is going to hurt the economy,” and that he envisions “a lot of small businesses may go out of business soon.”
Orange County’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped by 17 to 95 on Sunday. Of the total, 40 were contracted by residents while traveling, nine from person-to-person spread and 35 were “community acquired,” according to Orange County Public Health officials. Eleven are under investigation as to how the patients were stricken.
Fifty-two are men, 42 are women.
Fifty-five fall into the age range of 18 to 49; 24 are 50 to 64 years old; and 15 are 65 and older.
There have been 1,585 people tested, leaving county officials with enough tests for 1,027 people.
For the first time in Orange County, a child was reported as having fallen ill to the virus, county officials said Friday. Officials with the county would not reveal the child’s age.
Ten Orange County Jail inmates fell ill with flu-like symptoms so they were isolated, but on Sunday, COVID-19 test results came back negative for eight of them so they were released from isolation, said Carrie Braun, an Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman.
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