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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Meal Services Are Closed, So Your Dinner Comes On The Bus

Jarrett Free is delivering meals to seniors in Alexander County these days in his Greenway Transit van.
Aaron Kohrs
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Greenway Transit
Jarrett Free is delivering meals to seniors in Alexander County these days in his Greenway Transit van.

In normal times, special bus services are a lifeline for seniors and people with disabilities who need to get to work, the grocery store or medical appointments — even more so now in the time of COVID-19. So many systems are adapting.

Aaron Kohrs
Aaron Kohrs

Greenway Public Transportation is the bus system in Caldwell, Burke, Alexander and Catawba counties, including Hickory. Residents who use the system's special van service have been asked to take essential trips only. And the vans are now doing double duty: Instead of taking residents to meal programs that are now closed, drivers are delivering meals to their homes. 

“We are doing the footwork. We are bringing the food to them,” said spokesman Aaron Kohrs. “And our drivers are instructed to maintain social distance, but also to smile at them and to just kind of wait for them to come to the door and see how they're doing.”

Meal deliveries are critical for people who normally dine at senior meal sites every week, like 74-year-old Marvin Gregory of Taylorsville. 

“We need that program, it's very important. If Greenway wasn't bringing 'em, we wouldn't have any meals.” 

Kelsi Watters
Credit Kelsi Watters
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Kelsi Watters

Special Services Required

Federally funded bus systems are required to offer a special transportation option for seniors and people with disabilities, sometimes called paratransit. These vans or buses typically drop off and pick up passengers along and near regular fixed-route buses. 

In Cabarrus County, paratransit buses on the Rider Transit system have seen about a 60% to 65% decline in ridership since local and state stay-home orders.  But they're still on a normal schedule.

Kelsi Watters rides the bus to and from her job at Atrium Health Cabarrus hospital in Concord. 

“Without paratransit right now, especially right now in this time of the coronavirus, I would not be able to get to my job,” Watters said. 

Watters is blind and works as a chaplain, which is considered an essential position.

“With social distancing protocol and safety and financial, it wouldn't be really plausible for me to take a Lyft or Uber or to have somebody else take me. That could be another risk, too,” Watters said. 

Cleaning And Social Distancing

And speaking of that risk, Rider Transit is taking precautions.  Bus drivers have supplies to clean seats and handholds after each rider. And when users call to book a pickup, they're questioned about the virus.

L.J. Weslowski
Credit City of Concord
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L.J. Weslowski

“We ask if they've traveled domestically or internationally in the last 14 days, if they've come into contact with anybody who's been positive with COVID in the last 14 days, and then if they have any of the symptoms. If so then we wouldn't provide them that trip,” said Rider Transit Director L.J. Weslowski. 

But Weslowski says so far they haven't had to deny anyone a ride. 

Charlotte Area Transit System also is still running its Special Transportation Services buses - for what it calls "life-sustaining" trips only. CATS is staggering drivers' shifts to allow social distancing, providing them with gloves and hand sanitizer and disinfecting all buses daily.

And fares have been eliminated to keep riders and drivers at a safe distance.