King County Metro has seen a sharp decline in passengers on numerous bus trips in recent days, including on the island (Paul Rowley/Staff Photo).

King County Metro has seen a sharp decline in passengers on numerous bus trips in recent days, including on the island (Paul Rowley/Staff Photo).

King County Metro to reduce bus service as ridership drops

Vashon-Maury Island may see major schedule adjustments as coronavirus keeps riders home.

Transit agencies such as King County Metro and Washington State Ferries (WSF) are seeing a sharp decline in the number of daily riders amid recommendations from Public Health — Seattle & King County for the public to practice social distancing and work remotely.

Now, Metro has announced that service reductions, including individual trip cancellations and the suspension of some routes altogether, will begin temporarily by Monday, March 23.

Update: The 118 and 119 bus routes on Vashon will not be altered as part of the round of schedule changes Metro will implement to most other routes.

Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer said the coming changes to the bus schedule, including on Vashon-Maury Island, have not been finalized yet, but more information is expected Friday. In a statement Wednesday evening, Metro said the reductions were being made with those who rely heavily or exclusively on bus service in mind, adding that there is no plan to reduce the agency’s current workforce.

“We’re actively talking with community groups who represent populations likely to depend on transit, including those that represent customers with accessibility challenges. We will remain engaged with them to understand their mobility needs and determine how best to serve them during this time,” Metro said, adding that ridership overall last Thursday was 45% less than a comparable day in 2019, a reduction of 185,000 passengers.

The story is more or less the same for ferries. WSF spokesperson Hadley Rodero said the state’s largest transportation agency has maintained a full schedule despite fewer passengers with the awareness that ferries provide “a vital service for goods, first responders and for critical appointments and work, especially for island communities like Vashon.”

“We will continue to provide ferry service, but it could be reduced due to ridership numbers, availability of crew or other factors. We are not there right this second, but it’s a possibility in the coming days or weeks,” she wrote in an email.

WSF has announced that those with unused tickets or unspent balances on travel passes may be eligible for a refund. All refund requests can be submitted online, though the 90-day use period for tickets and travel passes will not be extended.

Elsewhere, King County Water Taxi will continue to operate both the Vashon Island-Seattle route and West Seattle route on a reduced winter schedule for the foreseeable future. Ridership decreased 23% in the first two weeks of March, according to a statement, and to keep commute and peak service operable would require additional crew while using greater resources.

On Thursday, public health reported 131 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections for a total of 693 in the county, with four new deaths.

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