The Woodlands Express commuter bus service from The Woodlands to various locations in downtown Houston, including the Texas Medical Center where hundreds of township residents work, has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit out of one park and ride location — on Research Forest Drive.

On Thursday, township directors approved reducing the number of daily trips the service makes to only 20 beginning April 6.

After a decision by the township board at a prior meeting on March 16 directing transit staff to develop a fluid management plan for the service as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, the number of daily trips back and forth to downtown locations had been reduced to 41 from a normal average of 104 trips per day.

Township President and General Manager Don Norrell said there have been an average of only 100 riders per day on the reduced service since late March.

“That is down significantly,” Norrell said of the ridership numbers. “(Under the reduced trips) They can still go to the same locations (drop-offs), you just don’t have as frequent as normal buses coming around.”

The township’s internal transportation program, called the Town Center Trolley, saw service suspended on March 16 after issues arose from cleaning the seats and possible transmission of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. During discussion at the March 16 board meeting about how hard it was to disinfect and clean township playgrounds and buses, Director Bruce Rieser said transit officials and township leaders had no choice but to halt the service, which is mainly used by shoppers and tourists, for the foreseeable future.

“It is the same for the (Town Center) trolleys. We cannot control the spread of the virus, so we’re suspending the service,” Rieser said on March 16 when many other township services were closed.

Norrell said the goal of latest changes to the commuter service was to maintain routes specifically to the Texas Medical Center so those critical healthcare workers can still get to their respective hospitals or facilities.

In addition to suspending the trolley service on March 16, officials later closed two commuter bus park and ride stations at Sawdust Road and Sterling Ridge on March 25.

The first change to township bus services came in early March when officials at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo canceled the rest of the event, leading transit officials at The Woodlands to cancel the special bus trips taking Rodeo lovers from The Woodlands to NRG Center for the three weekends of the event. Those riders who had pre-registetered for the service were expected to get refunds within several weeks.

Gordy Bunch, chairman of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors, said on March 11 that cessation of the bus service — in only its second year of operation — would be coordinated properly with transit officials and bus providers.

“We will be canceling and refunding rodeo bus service customers. We are working with First Class tours to coordinate those efforts,” Bunch said on March 11 after the bus service was called off.

There is no announced restart date for the trolley service nor a reopening date of the two closed park and ride stations at Sterling Ridge and Sawdust Road.

jeff.forward@chron.com

Original Article from: https://www.yourconroenews.com/neighborhood/woodlands/news/article/Woodlands-Express-to-reduce-daily-trips-effective-15178288.php