Wilmington Transit Center opens as virus depresses bus ridership
The new Wilmington Transit Center opened Sunday during a tough time for public transit.
The $10 million facility is the new transfer point for most buses in the City. Amenities like some seating, bike racks, real-time signs, trash cans and Wi-Fi were delayed by the pandemic and are still being installed. But John Sisson, CEO of the Delaware Transit Corporation, which runs DART, says the transit center is operating as planned.
“There’s no modifications other than we’re asking people to social distance and wear masks, and we’re going to be in there cleaning,” he said. “It’s three bays of areas where buses can come in, and people will wait and board those buses and transfer between buses.”
Parking above the transit center is expected to open next weekend.
DART originally proposed rerouting about 20 routes that serviced the nearby Amtrak station to the new transit center, but based on public comment kept drop-off only service to the Amtrak station for some routes.
Sisson says bus ridership has dropped 70 percent during the coronavirus. DART reduced service initially and capped the number of riders allowed on each bus.
“We started off by reducing our service to a modified Saturday level of service, knowing the demand was less and our ability to have drivers and our ability to clean the buses [was limited]," said Sisson. “Through that process we realized that we needed to have some extra buses on some of the bus lines because of overcrowding … We also limited the number of passengers on any bus at one time, so it was around 40 percent of that capacity.”
Face coverings are required for all bus drivers and riders. Fares have been eliminated to reduce contact between bus riders and drivers — but will be reinstated June 1.
Sisson says DART restored some capacity in the service change effective Sunday and is now operating at about 80 percent of normal fixed-route service.
The construction of the Wilmington Transit Center was used to justify the controversial dismantling of a de facto bus hub at Rodney Square several years ago.
State and city officials unveiled a multi-million-dollar plan to renovate Rodney Square last spring.
Bus riders and advocates complained last year of continued confusion over bus routes in the wake of service changes around the square, less accessible bus connections for people with disabilities and a lack of transparency surrounding decision making.
Marty Hageman of Downtown Visions and the Rodney Square Conservancy said at the time he did not see the renovation and the bus route changes as connected.
“The Conservancy has always viewed these as two separate issues,” Hageman said last March. “One is an issue with DART and the population that would be using the bus. The other is just for those neighbors that just did not care for the deteriorating appearance of Rodney Square.”