LB Transit ‘Getting Back to Normal’

By: 
Eric Bailey

Though the sounds of cars whizzing by and foot traffic from businesses slowly reopening may start to fill the pathways of Atlantic Avenue, it’s difficult to distinguish hearing buses running up and down the road. However, not so far back in our distance memories that may have been one of the only sounds heard.

Though Long Beach Transit (LBT) adjusted its service March 22 in response to the severe decline in ridership due to shelter-in-place orders facilitated by COVID-19, the transit agency decided to restore some of its service Oct. 4 with restrictions being eased.

“As the community slowly emerges, the time has come to expand service hours and frequency to help customers with their essential trips,” said LBT President and CEO Kenneth A. McDonald in a Sept. 30 press release.

The time may have come to expand and return to normalcy as the community emerges; but for some coach operators, their normal has been consistent throughout.

“For me working through this pandemic meant to me that I was an important person to help those that need to get to their essential jobs and needs,” said Operator Jesus Cortez. “I’m proud that I’m able help in that way.”

Cortez, an operator who drives Route 61 along Atlantic Avenue has been with LBT for about 18 months.

He has his concerns but remains optimistic throughout his commitment to serving the public in what’s arguably one of the biggest social disruptions in 100 years.

“It’s still scary as of today, but I take precautions to ensure that I get minimal risk of COVID,” he said.

LBT’s website bodes a budgeted 800 employees as of February 2020, many of whom are coach operators who have been on the front lines still providing service to those in need since the waking hours of the pandemic, even when ridership was at low-point.

“There was a swift drop in ridership at the onset of the pandemic,” said Executive Director and Vice President of Customer Relations and Communications Michael Gold. “Since that time, ridership has slowly crept upward. We saw small growth in August and in September, as the communities have opened up.”

Operators are aware the situation that though there’s an increase in rides, Gold said those increases aren’t quite near what they looked like pre-COVID.

“It’s been good that we still have a job and can come to work,” said Horace Thompson, an operator whose been with LBT for four years. “You can’t drive the bus from home.”

With the expanded service coming Oct. 4 and increases in ridership getting the city’s fleet of 250 buses back to what we remember as normalcy, it’s worth mentioning that passengers will be welcomed back by essential and vital operators who rode the wave throughout the pandemic.

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