STARS Bus Services Remain Reduced During Pandemic, Public Safety Top Concern

STARS will not be bringing back the main bus routes for some time. We are working on new route-like services for the summer, but the timing of that depends on how this pandemic goes. The national news last week was not good. Many people pushed too far, too fast.” – Executive Director Glenn Steffens

Saginaw Transit Authority Regional Services (STARS) is evaluating service increase plans on a 2-week basis based on Covid-19’s incubatory period of up to 14 days. Executive Director Steffens elaborated, “What we see today is always the result of what we were doing two weeks ago, so it’s difficult to predict our steps far in advance.”

In addition to monitoring Covid-19 numbers in the City and County, STARS is working on innovative ways to keep passengers safe. STARS is testing barriers for drivers as well as between passengers. “Before the pandemic, we could fit 50 people on a bus. Now, that same bus can only seat about 9 with social distancing requirements. I hope to safely get that number closer to 15-20 passengers with barriers and other safety measures. We’ve had success so far on our Pigeon Express job route, but it takes a lot of work,” said Steffens. STARS is also investing in high-end cleaning and disinfecting equipment, researching alternative methods like UV light, and exploring other new technologies.

“I know that many people are getting called back to work and need transportation, but STARS simply is not ready to take on service increases safely. I sympathize with our riders who need more transportation options. This is a true hardship. But taking on that level of service at this time would be reckless and giving safety a back seat. My promise is that we won’t do it until we know we can do it safely. When that big bus rolls down the street, whenever that is, I want you to know that STARS has made sure it’s safe to ride,” stated Steffens.

Transit and its relation to Covid-19 spread is not well studied. A recent report from University of Virginia on Racial Disparity in Covid-19 deaths points to public transit as a major factor in the virus’s increased spread among African-Americans in city areas. Steffens added, “If you look at the hotspots here or nationwide, many have robust bus route services. I don’t think that’s coincidence. Transits may need to locally rethink service standards before continuing forward. The City of Saginaw has had success in flattening the curve when compared to similar size cities. I don’t want to see STARS undo this great community’s hard work by opening too soon.”

STARS has reduced services and waived fares since March due to the pandemic. The local bus agency still allows curb-to-curb trips for essential travel and now performs about 700 trips per week for residents, but bus routes remain closed. Bus routes would normally service over 1,500 trips per day. As the economy attempts to reopen, STARS Executive Director Glenn Steffens is asking for patience and understanding from the public while STARS services remain limited. Numbers in Michigan have started to spike, although Saginaw so far remains steady. “We need to be careful and thoughtful about what to do next,” said Steffens. The Saginaw-based bus agency’s track record through the pandemic has been very positive, according to Steffens. All drivers and passengers are required to wear masks or face coverings and enhanced cleaning is ongoing.

Steffens had one last message for riders, “If you need a service we aren’t providing, please know that it’s for your safety and we are working on solutions. Have faith and remember we’re all in this together.