ORANGE – The Orange County Transportation Authority, the county’s transportation planning agency, continues to adjust its operations in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to protect the health and safety of employees and the public, while continuing to deliver essential services.
OCTA has made several adjustments to the OC Bus service that reflect a sharp decline in ridership since the health crisis began and, at the same time, has accelerated construction projects because of the reduction in traffic on streets and freeways in the wake of the state’s stay-at-home orders.
“Similar to businesses and agencies everywhere, we’re finding it necessary to be exceedingly flexible in these unprecedented times,” said OCTA CEO Darrell E. Johnson. “With good Board of Directors policy and direction, advanced planning for a potential crisis, and the dedication of employees, OCTA is well-positioned for dealing with this crisis.”
Nearly 600 OCTA administrative employees have transitioned to working remotely and OCTA board and committee meetings are now being held by teleconference, with less than 10 staff in a board room that holds 150. The public is encouraged to participate by listening to the meetings online and providing comments to the Clerk of the Board via e-mail. Additionally, more than 400 employees continue to provide essential bus service from OCTA’s bus bases and on the regular bus routes operating reduced service hours.
Here are some of the ways that OCTA is actively responding to the public health crisis:
• OCTA encourages those who can stay home to do so, to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
• For those who must use public transit, OCTA made several changes to its regular service. Enhanced cleaning was implemented on OC Bus, with extra attention paid to areas of frequent contact.
• Since March 23, OC Bus has been operating on a Sunday service schedule every day of the week. Sunday service is about 40 percent of the regular weekday service, and the change reflects a sharp decline in bus ridership since the start of the pandemic – approximately 33,000 riders daily compared to approximately 125,000 on an average weekday before the crisis.
• Since April 2, OCTA began boarding passengers only through the rear doors of OC Buses, to encourage social distancing between passengers and coach operators.
• No changes have been made to OC ACCESS paratransit services, for riders with physical and developmental disabilities, though ridership has fallen by approximately 90 percent.
• More information on bus service is available online at www.ocbus.com.
Transportation Improvement Projects Accelerated
• Construction continues on major OCTA construction projects and those in partnership with Caltrans, because the state has deemed public transportation projects as essential. They include:
• I-405 Improvement Project
• OC Streetcar
• I-5 South (SR-73 to El Toro Road) and
• I-5 Central (SR-57 to SR-55)
• OCTA is coordinating with Caltrans and contractors to speed up construction projects where possible, recognizing that the amount of traffic on local freeways is down by as much as 60 percent, prompting daytime lane closures and extended overnight closures.
• For the I-405 project, daytime freeway lane closures are in place between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m., allowing more work on bridges.
• On the OC Streetcar project, daytime construction work on Fourth Street in Santa Ana is occurring while business there are closed under the state order.
Changes Being Communicated to the Public
• OCTA is communicating changes to bus operations and transportation projects to the public in multiple languages – English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Those efforts include riders’ alerts, emails, website update, press releases and social media posts.
• OCTA is also actively responding to public comments through OCTA’s Customer Information Center and social media. The OCTA Customer Service Line is (714) 636-7433.
• Two videos were produced letting the public know about enhanced safety measures at www.octa.net/safety and a thank you to OC Bus coach operators and other operations employees at www.octa.net/thankyou.
Departments across the agency also continue to focus on the pandemic and to monitor and analyze potential impacts.
OCTA will continue to offer competitive grant funding to cities and local jurisdictions and will work to ensure that they can meet Measure M funding guidelines so important street improvements can continue moving forward.
While the financial impacts of the crisis are largely unknown as of now, OCTA is monitoring the loss of bus fare revenue and the loss of tax revenue from Measure M, the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements, and the state’s Transportation Development Act, a quarter-cent tax that supports transit services.
Strong planning and healthy reserves mean that all current projects through Measure M are currently able to continue as planned. OCTA has maintained a conservative investment portfolio, which has resulted in the agency being well-positioned to withstand the crisis.
OCTA also continues to actively communicate with its federal and state governmental and transportation partners to ensure that OCTA fulfills its mission to keep Orange County moving.
For more information: www.octa.net.
About OCTA: The Orange County Transportation Authority is the county transportation planning commission, responsible for funding and implementing transit and capital projects for a balanced and sustainable transportation system that reflects the diverse travel needs of the county’s 34 cities and 3.2 million residents. With the mission of keeping Orange County moving, this includes freeways and express lanes, bus and rail transit, rideshare, commuter rail and active transportation.