I had COVID last week. After more than two years of hand washing, wearing masks and avoiding crowds, I guess it was my turn. Fortunately, being double vaxed and double boosted, it was a relatively mild case and my recovery was hastened by antiviral pills from Pfizer.
But this week marks a stark milestone (or headstone) in this pandemic: one million Americans have died from COVID. Worldwide the death toll is more like 6 million, though some experts say the number of fatalities is much higher.
So how are we all recovering from this pandemic?
Joining transportation experts last week on a panel discussion at the Bridgeport Regional Business Council’s Leadership program, I heard mixed results.
Doug Holcomb, the head of Greater Bridgeport Transit (and, I discovered, a former city planner) said his bus ridership is back to 80% of pre-COVID levels thanks in large part to the number of students using the state’s U-Pass program.
Holcomb told the future business leaders in the Park City that ridership jumped 17% when bus fares were eliminated April 1 in conjunction with a reduction in gasoline taxes. When gas is $4.35 a gallon, a free bus ride makes a lot of sense.
These days GBTA’s biggest problem is personnel. “I could hire 20 drivers and mechanics tomorrow… if they applied,” he said, reminding the audience that he had no layoffs even at the height of the pandemic.
Fred Hall, President of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, had the same complaint. He’s struggling to keep staff. Aside from furloughing bartenders when the pandemic hit, his ships were kept fully staffed even as service was slashed.
Hall worries about strong competition for his maritime talent as the offshore wind industry comes to Connecticut seeking to staff its armada of vessels.
“Deck hands start at $57,000,” he said. “And their rotation has them only working 180 days a year, three days on and three days off.”
The good news from Hall was that his ridership was back to 100% of targets in April. Best I can tell, that’s a first in the state and the ferry’s summertime traffic is just beginning.
On Metro-North the numbers aren’t as rosy.
Weekday ridership is still only 60% at best, and that’s on Tuesday through Thursday. Mondays and Fridays it’s much lighter. And with summer approaching you can anticipate a further decline.
Of course, while gasoline taxes and bus fares took a pre-election holiday thanks to lawmakers, there was no discount for train riders who are again paying peak fares at rush hour.
With COVID cases climbing again, the confusing mask rules on Connecticut’s transit network don’t help: no masks on CT Transit buses, Shore Line East or the Hartford Line. But masks are still required on Metro-North, though almost never enforced.
One wonders how many of America’s one million COVID deaths could have been prevented if mask rules were enforced. We will never know.
But two-plus years after this nightmare began, it’s still not over.