COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
While officials are asking people to stay home as the COVID-19 outbreak continues, Columbia transit options are staying open to get people to essential services.
OATS Transit in Columbia is limiting its service to essential travel only, meaning doctors' appointments, trips to the grocery stores and food banks and pharmacy visits.
OATS Transit is a private not-for-profit organization that provides transportation for seniors and people with disabilities, along with other rural groups.
Dorothy Yeager, executive director of OATS in Columbia, said while the service normally has seven to eight drivers per day, only one person was driving vehicles Monday.
"It's not because we have cut back on service, but rather riders are canceling and opting to stay home," Yeager said. "I think it's important that people do stay home as much as they possibly can."
As many cities and states are ordering citizens to stay home, Yeager says OATS will continue to provide essential rides to the communities they serve.
"Even if there are stay-at-home orders we would be exempt," Yeager said. "But the safety of our staff is of primary concern."
Drivers have been given training and materials to disinfect the vehicles on a regular basis. They are also limiting the number of riders that will be picked up at one time to encourage social distancing.
Yeager said they are also facing financial impacts from the outbreak.
She said OATS receives funding from partners such as the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Missouri Medicaid program.
"As those partnerships cut back on their services, it does impact on us," Yeager said.
Yeager said cutting back on hours affects her drivers financially as well, because they are hourly employees.
"I hope that we can get ahead of this virus, get it contained so that everyone can get back to work," Yeager said.
Columbia's bus service, Go COMO, has suspended all fares including for para-transit for disabled riders until May 1 and was still operating as of Monday.
A city spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jefferson City's bus service JEFFTRAN tweeted that it will also suspend fares and is only allowing passengers on and off its buses through the rear door.