SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) The Santa Cruz METRO announced starting Wednesday it planned to expand its capacity to allow for more riders on its buses. The bus drivers union challenged the decision and now the increase has been paused.
The capacity on the buses would change from 8 to 15 riders for the 40' buses, and from 5 to 10 riders for the 35' buses. The METRO said this is about 25% of the buses full capacity.
However, the bus riders union is challenging the increase in ridership by filing a cease and desist to stop the increase immediately. They argue it will be unsafe for drivers and the riders on board during the pandemic.
“If you increase it anymore than that, you will have someone sitting right next to you, in front of you or in the back of you. We need to regulate it, because we just don’t know where people are going to sit or if they really are concerned about the coronavirus,” SMART Local 0023 chairperson James Sandoval said.
The Santa Cruz METRO has become more packed as more people have returned to work, and the max of eight people per bus has created some delays.
“I’ve had to wait plenty of times,” rider from San Jose Jerika Thompson said.
The METRO's data shows during one week in June 400 riders were passed by; meaning they had to wait for a second bus to arrive.
“If we pass you up we didn’t do our job. We didn’t get you where you needed to go,” Santa Cruz METRO CEO Alex Clifford said.
However, the drivers union says the numbers don't reflect reality and there are plenty of drivers and buses ready for that situation.
“Now we have a full force of drivers, so it was unnecessary to try to increase the limit when there was no reason to,” Sandoval said.
Each bus has a curtain for the driver, seats are blocked off on board and no passenger can sit within 6 feet of the bus driver.
“We did not propose to go to higher bus capacity until we completed a complete retrofit of all of our buses. We’ve done a number of things to make sure everyone are safe," Clifford said. "We think we’re right in line with common and even best practices across the nation.”
At least one regular rider we spoke with says the slight delays are worth it for her health.
“It's a safe option for everybody. Sometimes yeah the buses will hold you back because they’re at capacity, but I feel it’s the safer route,” Thompson said.
Tomorrow the decision on if to increase capacity will face a judge. There will be no changes to capacity until the judge makes a ruling.
The drivers union said there's been at least 60 official complaints from the public against the METRO's plan.
The union credits several members of the METRO's board, including county supervisor John Leopold and Watsonville city councilmember Aurelio Gonzalez, for the decision to hold the increase in capacity.