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A bus driver wears a mask Monday, April 6, 2020, while waiting for passengers to board at the downtown Colorado Springs bus station. Ridership on Mountain Metro buses is not expected to fully recover this year as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Riders are returning to Mountain Metro Transit and regional Bustang buses, but the agencies are far from fully recovered from the drop-off in ridership and revenues because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mountain Metro’s ridership during the first week of September was down about 35% compared to the same week last year when it had 8,000 to 10,000 riders on a week day. During the stay-at-home order in late March, the agency saw a 65% drop in ridership, said Craig Blewitt, director of Mountain Metro Transit.

Most Mountain Metro riders depend on the service because they don’t have a car or they can’t drive, so, as businesses reopened, ridership recovered.

The agency never stopped operating buses, but it did end service to Pikes Peak Community College’s northern campus and hospitals in northern Colorado Springs because of low ridership. The agency expects to restart those routes in January, Blewitt said.

The ridership allows for proper social distancing and is serving riders well from a health perspective, he said.

Mountain Metro does not expect ridership to fully recover this year, but it will depend on how many schools and businesses reopen, the economy and other factors, he said.

The Bustang service run by the Colorado Department of Transportation has returned to about 15% of the ridership it had before the coronavirus, said Bob Wilson, a spokesman for the agency.

“When we get to a point where more people are commuting once again, we will be back up to more normal numbers,” he said.

The ridership on commuter buses that run into Denver from Colorado Springs and Fort Collins have been seriously hurt by the pandemic because many of those office employees that used the service every day are now working from home, he said.

The buses providing service across the state have fared better. For example, the bus between Lamar and Colorado Springs is at 44% of its ridership prior to the spread of the virus and the bus between Gunnison and Denver has recovered 30% of its ridership, he said.

Across the country, many public transportation agencies are hurting and six in 10 are expecting to have to cut service or furlough employees without additional federal funding, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

The association is calling for federal lawmakers to provide $32 billion in additional funding. Public agencies previously received $25 billion in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. Both Mountain Metro and Bustang received a portion of that money.

Mountain Metro Transit received $21 million in CARES funding, which is expected to carry the agency through March of next year, Blewitt said. The money can be used to cover revenue shortfalls and cleaning supplies and new equipment, such as the plastic separating drivers from riders needed to ensure safety for riders.

“The CARES Act funding has been critical for us,” he said.

The agency has lost $800,0000 in fare revenue and $5 million in sales tax revenue, he said.

CDOT received $40 million in CARES Act funding and has distributed $3.6 million of it, Wilson said. Bustang revenue is down 76% from January to August of 2020 compared to the same period last year. The drop was driven, in part, by the state suspending Bustang service from the end of March through the end of June.

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or 719- 429-9264.

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or 719- 429-9264.

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