AppalCart maintains routes, services amid COVID-19

Cole Elledge, Reporter

Papers line alternating seats to promote social distancing and open ventilation circulates air through the buses. App State students, now in masks, are riding AppalCart buses again.

Quint David, the AppalCart Board chair, said ridership for the fall semester will likely be lower than average because of many classes being moved online.

Students wait at the AppalCart terminal located outside of Belk Library on campus. (Jesse Barber)

“Rather than focus on our previous 2 million rides a year goal for this year, reducing overcrowding on buses is a much larger priority,” David said.

According to AppalCart’s website, operating bus routes were limited to Green, Red, Orange, Pop 105, and Purple routes on March 16th, the first day of App State’s Spring Break extension due to COVID-19.

David said the board first officially discussed measures at their April meeting. Board members discussed the pandemic prior to the meeting.

On Aug. 10, AppalCart limited passenger capacity to . Capacities were 20 people on 35-40 ft. buses. On 30 ft. buses, the limit is 15. AppalCart’s cutaway, or C-81, can carry 10 people.

Craig Hughes, director of AppalCart, said 24 stops were removed. All of the stops were a short distance from another stop and many had low ridership. 

“We encourage riders to take a bus long before their class on campus begins to minimize potential full capacity issues and spread peak ridership around,” David said.

Charlie Wallin, AppalCart board member and Watauga County commissioner, said traffic in Watauga, “seemed to flow very well” generally.

“After 12 o’clock at night, the roads seem deserted,” Wallin said.

Hughes said implemented practices include wiping and spraying “touch areas” on buses, vans and in buildings. AppalCart’s fleet  is deep cleaned every weekend.

Separation barriers behind bus operators and openable, retrofitted windows are just some additions to buses to stop the spread of COVID-19. Other changes include opening top roof vents and marking off seats for social distancing.

Passengers have been required to wear face coverings since June 29. Masks are not required for passengers under the age of 10, or with medical or behavioral issues.

“When our drivers have encountered passengers who do not have a mask, our drivers have offered them one. Most passengers have been compliant,” Hughes said.

Hughes said employees are trained in cleaning vehicles, interacting safely with passengers and using personal protective equipment. Each employee has their temperature checked and is screened daily for symptoms.

According to AppalCart’s website, masks are provided for all employees. All operators receive gloves. Hughes said wearing masks is required for operators. Drivers are trained to wear gloves while cleaning but gloves aren’t required for driving. Face masks are required in facilities unless one is eating or alone in a private office.

David said board decisions were informed by recommendations from the Federal Transit Administration, Center for Disease Control, and the local chamber of commerce.

“The thing is we want to make sure there are buses for everyone,” Wallin said.