With COVID-19 continually taking a toll on Cal State Fullerton faculty, staff and students, there has been a subsequent toll on Orange County Transportation Authority, also known as the OCTA, ridership now that the vast majority of students are not on campus and will not be for the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year.
The Voice of OC reported in April that the transit authority laid off approximately 300 privately contracted bus drivers following reports of a drastic decline in ridership and cutbacks in service.
In June, OCTA had a growth in demand, which restored some of the services that were previously cut. Megan Abba, a communications specialist for OCTA, said in an email to the Daily Titan that the transit authority is now running approximately 60% of its pre-pandemic services.
However, OCTA has been experiencing a decline in ridership for years, which has only been exacerbated amid the coronavirus pandemic.
OCTA buses averaged 125,000 passengers per day prior to the pandemic, which shrunk to approximately 33,000 riders per day in March and April and 64,000 per day so far this month.
Route 57, which runs on State College Boulevard alongside CSUF, recorded over 9,400 passengers on March 11, the day before professors and students began the transition to virtual instruction. On Sept. 9, the same bus reported only 5,100 passengers.
As OCTA faces rider and revenue losses, students are taking advantage of the money that they are saving from the lack of school commutes.
Now that classes are predominantly online, Rigoberto Ceja, a second-year transfer student majoring in English, said he is saving time and money just by staying at home. He said he rode two buses four times a week to get to campus, and purchased a one-hour pass each day, spending approximately $10 a week or $40 a month.
Along with the money he spent, Ceja said it took him nearly an hour to get from his home in Anaheim to campus, depending on traffic and the wait time between bus transfers.
CSUF students also have the advantage of the U-Pass, a bus pass offered by the university’s Parking and Transportation Services in partnership with OCTA, which allows students a reduced fare on unlimited rides on the routes 24, 26, 57 and 153, which extend from cities such as Newport Beach, Yorba Linda, Anaheim and Buena Park. The U-Pass is $100 for the semester, while a regular 30-day pass is $69.
J Lim, a junior liberal studies major, used the U-Pass to get to campus twice a week. According to Lim, the pass is approximately $20 a month and the commute took over an hour.
With these circumstances, students are missing out on learning in a classroom and seeing friends, but some have said they are grateful for saving time from commuting.
“Every cent counts now and that $20 every month goes to groceries or rent,” Lim said.
For the time being, services such as the U-Pass and the OC Access, which is a paratransit service for individuals with physical or cognitive limitations, have not been affected by the pandemic.
This post was updated to clarify that the U-pass allows students unlimited rides on all Orange County Bus routes.