It’s been nearly a year since the COVID-19 health pandemic drastically changed the way people live, work, socialize, and move about the world. While many businesses are operating in a limited capacity, or have been shut down entirely, Rio Metro recognizes that essential employees still need to get to work, and that people still need access to grocery stores, medical services, and more.
Rio Metro’s Dial-a-Ride buses continue to operate, and many individuals who have no other means of transportation depend on the service.
“We’re a lifeline for the majority of the people we transport,” says Carol Mathews, Acting Transit Manager for Rio Metro Sandoval, which operates the Rio Rancho Dial-a-Ride. “Many of our passengers live alone. They wouldn’t have another way to get to the grocery store.”
Curb-to-Curb and Door-to-Door
Dial-a-Ride is a curb-to-curb (door-to-door in Rio Rancho) transportation service for individuals who can’t use standard fixed route bus to access things like medical appointments, employment, school, or shopping.
Rio Metro offers Dial-a-Ride services in Rio Rancho and Valencia County. The Rio Rancho service transports residents of Rio Rancho that are 62 years and older or 18 years and older with a disability, and individuals must be signed up with the agency. The Valencia service accommodates the general public, as well as seniors and individuals with disabilities. Both operate Monday through Friday and require advance reservations.
Adjusting for the Pandemic
While Dial-a-Ride continues to operate, a lot has changed to comply with the State of New Mexico’s COVID-19 public health orders and to make the experience as safe as possible for both drivers and passengers.
“One of the first things we implemented was sterilization of the buses,” says Mathews. “Stanley Steemer comes every day and they do a ‘fogging’ on every bus that’s been on the road.”
In addition to this service, Rio Metro installed plexiglass barriers on all buses between the driver’s seat and passenger entrance. Each bus is limited to a 4-seat capacity (instead of the standard 16); social distancing signage is placed throughout the busses, seats are blocked to keep people 6 feet apart, and drivers clean their buses with disinfecting spray and wipes throughout the day.
Meeting the Needs of Our Passengers
While ridership initially dropped at the beginning of the pandemic, people have become more comfortable utilizing public transit again.
“We’re currently transporting about 65 people a day,” says Mathews of the Rio Rancho service.
According to Mathews, they are primarily getting requests to take people to work, to the store, or to medical appointments. “Most of the people we transport for work are essential workers,” she says. “We also get a lot of requests to go to big box stores like Walmart and Target.”
However, the staff in Rio Rancho recognized a need for a service that wasn’t being provided pre-pandemic.
“We transport a lot of seniors,” says Mathews. “A lot of our seniors live alone. For them, it has been horrible to stay home all this time. We started picking people up from home and taking them to fast food restaurants and waiting for them, just so that they could have a reason to get out of the house. That is not our normal practice, but it has been amazing for these people. Just to get in the bus, talk to the driver, ride over to McDonald’s, buy their hamburger, get back on the bus and go home. It’s a lifesaver for them just to get out of the house.”
Dial-a-Ride has remained an essential service for the individuals that use it on a regular basis. Visit the Rio Metro Dial-a-Ride page to learn more about the services in Rio Rancho and Valencia County.