Looks for feedback in online survey
By Natalie Johnson
Before COVID-19, TranGO’s Twisp-to-Winthrop bus route was often standing-room only.
Last spring, after the deadly novel coronavirus began spreading through Washington, the local transit organization had to drastically limit its bus service. However, now that bus drivers and many of their riders have the opportunity to be vaccinated, TranGO is considering another step toward normal.
“Initially in Phases 1 and 2 it was just for essential trips, so people going to work, shopping, doctors, things like that,” said Kelly Scalf, CEO and general manager of the Okanogan County Transit Authority, operationally known as TranGO.
TranGO also has been scheduling buses by reservation, with a limit of four or five people per vehicle to allow for proper social distancing.
Once drivers have had an opportunity to be vaccinated — TranGO is encouraging it among staff, but not requiring it — the agency could consider increasing capacity per bus.
The reservations may need to stay though, Scalf said.
“Up to this point, we haven’t had to deny any trips, but I think that’s a combination of things … for a long time here people have been working from home or haven’t been working in certain cases so that lowered the demand that we had previously,” she said.
The organization has had to make quick adaptations to its service, based on ever-changing guidelines from federal, state and local organizations, Scalf said. The reservations have allowed them to plan bus routes to maintain social distancing.
Riders are asked to call a day ahead to make reservations, but the agency can often accommodate a same-day ride, Scalf said. The agency has sent out additional vehicles on routes to help when demand increases.
“Safety is just such a primary concern for us for the public and our staff,” she said. “[We were] trying to figure out what are they even recommending today and who do we think trumps who.”
TranGO has three routes serving the Methow — Twisp to Okanogan, Twisp to Pateros and Twisp to Winthrop. The Twisp-to-Winthrop route was one of its busiest pre-COVID.
But the post-COVID ridership is anyone’s guess. TranGO is currently conducting an online survey to try to gauge ridership in the county — the first survey they’ve done since 2015.
“It will be used to determine if we make changes to our routes, if we adjust service times, things like that, or add service,” Scalf said.
The survey is available at https://okanogantransit.com/survey-2021.