In this February file photo, SMART officials meet in Mountain Village Town Hall. Thursday’s meeting, which was held virtually, included discussions about rider capacity and usage. (Planet file photo)

The San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), like all local entities and officials, is navigating the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March, when initial stay-at-home orders went into effect, SMART has new protocols and waived all rider fares. Hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes are available to all riders, and the vehicles are being wiped down regularly with an alcohol-based disinfectant spray, thanks to Telluride Distilling Company. Drivers, who are on the front lines, are protected by a thick plastic-like clear curtain of sorts, as they also have been encouraging riders to wear facemasks, especially now since the Town of Telluride passed an emergency ordinance requiring such coverings on public transportation. 

During a SMART meeting Thursday afternoon via Zoom, Erich Lange, SMART’s operations manger, said riders have been receptive to the new measures and have complied for the most part. 

“Their drivers are really in a tough position as they continue to operate for people to travel across this region,” he said. 

Mountain Village council member Marti Prohaska asked about enforcing Telluride’s new facemask ordinance, especially if someone gets on in Norwood without a mask and is heading to town, for example. 

Lange, as well as SMART Executive Director David Averill, explained that’s part of the ongoing communications and education efforts. 

San Miguel County Commissioner Lance Waring added that the county will be receiving upwards of 21,000 disposable facemasks, as they plan to distribute at least one-third of them to local municipalities for businesses that are currently reopening under the latest public health orders. Some of those masks may be made available to SMART, he said. 

Lange said the sanitation procedures are the “new normal” and could be necessary for “quite a while,” given the unknowns of the current pandemic. 

Ridership has been down recently, which isn’t necessarily surprising or alarming.

Seats are also being marked to limit ridership in observing the six-feet requirement for proper physical distancing. Rider capacity was also discussed Thursday as more people are beginning to get back to work within the county. The Norwood route in particular may require an additional vehicle, upping the bus count to three, in order to spread out capacity. 

 “It’s really kind of forced us to be creative of where we put capacity,” Averill said. “ … I would just like to be able to have the flexibility to run a third bus up there when we need it.”

He added that there have been some capacity problems over the past couple weeks, but SMART has found alternative transportation for those who weren’t about to get on a bus. 

“Luckily, we’ve been able to figure out other rides for them,” he said, adding he feels that SMART should provide service to meet the demand. 

The board will discuss adding a third bus to the Norwood route in future meetings.

Averill also spoke about SMART’s marketing efforts, which had to be adjusted during the pandemic.  

“We find ourselves in a really weird position where we’re not actively trying to attract people to transit systems for the first time in my career. It’s just a really weird time,” he said. 

Looking ahead, Averill said SMART will eventually have to think about how to get people to start using the system again, particularly when the pandemic passes and there are not capacity or distance restrictions.  

“One thing that we’ve been concerned about is how do we get people back on the bus, even after you’ve gotten the all clear. They’re confined spaces.” He said. “I think we’re going to be fighting to get back the customers we’ve been serving all along, frankly.”