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SMART cuts bus service as ridership falls 80% during virus crisis

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — In recent weeks, the SMART bus line for suburban Metro Detroit has had ridership fall 80% as the coronavirus rips through Michigan. It will be cutting service by about 40% this week, starting Tuesday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order, issued last week, demands that most people stay home in most circumstances.

More:Stay-home order violators face $500 fines; jail possible

This means many workplaces in the state have been forced to close their doors. Individual violators could be ticketed $500, but businesses that "willfully" violate the order could be shuttered altogether.

Starting Tuesday, the FAST buses that travel the Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan Avenue corridors will alternate with local routes every 30 minutes.

Commuter park and ride buses will run only once into downtown Detroit in the morning, and once out of it in the afternoon. Those routes are down 95% in traffic, SMART said Monday in a statement.

Detroit has been a hot spot for coronavirus infections, as experts say poor public health and high poverty levels leave the residents of Michigan's largest city particularly vulnerable to a virus that has killed 132 people in the state.

More:Detroiters face higher risk of severe outcomes in coronavirus outbreak

SMART shuttles and dial-a-ride service are also being paused for now.

To comply with "social distancing" recommendations that people be at least six feet apart from one another, the bus line will be sending more buses down high-use routes. More buses will prevent the crowding that forces people to sit close to one another.

SMART continues to offer free fare during the crisis. Riders are allowed to board at the rear of the bus, to prevent drivers from too much exposure. Buses are cleaned mid-route, and undergo "regular electrostatic spraying," SMART says.

In normal times, SMART averages about 30,000 riders per day. 

SMART continues with the following initiatives until further notice: free fare, rear-door boarding, and yellow chain separating drivers from passengers, mid-route cleaning and regular electrostatic spraying of all buses.

“While transit workers aren’t always acknowledged for the frontline roles in public emergencies, this crisis is demonstrating how important our service is for the public health and well-being in the region," said SMART deputy general manager Robert Cramer, in a statement. "Our drivers and supporting staff have been commendable throughout this on-going crisis."