City officials in Owen Sound are asking citizens to only use public transit for essential travel.
Owen Sound's Director of Public Works and Engineering Dennis Kefalas says there has been a spike in ridership on city buses since the service became free to use earlier this week due to COVID-19.
"It might just be people who are bored and think it's a way for them to get out of the house," Kefalas says. "This does potentially put our drivers at risk. We're maintaining public transit as an essential service and hope people understand this and only use it for essential travel, whether that be going to the grocery store to pick up groceries or to the pharmacy."
Kefalas says the city wants to keep the service running, but has limited capacity in terms of drivers. He notes the city needs to protect the health and safety of drivers to ensure the service continues.
"We want to keep the service going as long as possible," Kefalas notes. "We hope people take this seriously and use it only when they have too."
The city made public transit free to riders until further notice as part of a number of service changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this week. Kefalas says that decision was two-fold: to ease the financial burden on those who rely on the essential service, and to protect the health of drivers who could risk exposure to the virus through currency exchange.
Kefalas adds there have been increased efforts to clean buses more regularly amid the pandemic, requiring bus drivers to disinfect surfaces such as hand rails after each run.
He says there is also consideration being given to limit the number of passengers permitted to ride on each bus to help maintain adequate social distancing.
"Right now, we're monitoring the situation to see how many people are riding the bus and evaluating if that will become a requirement," Kefalas explains.