The USF Bull Runner normally transports dozens of students at a time, but due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, bus drivers are following new social distancing guidelines and operating at limited hours.
Buses will only transport up to nine passengers and one driver at a given time. Instead of running until midnight five days a week, the new hours of operation have changed to Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m with no buses running on the weekends.
Aaron Nichols, assistant director of communications for Administrative Services, said that the Bull Runner is following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to keep riders and drivers as safe as possible.
The CDC recommends buses maintain healthy practices and safely distance passengers and drivers.
Some of these recommendations include maintaining a 6-foot distance, asking bus passengers to enter and exit the bus through rear doors and avoiding surfaces often touched by bus passengers, according to the CDC website.
Nichols said so far the Bull Runner has not run into any issues and riders have been respectful of the changes.
“Riders are managing limitations themselves and are very cognizant of social distancing,” Nichols said. “There has not been a maximum number of passengers yet.”
Nichols said the small number of riders is likely due to students leaving campus and not needing to get around as much since classes are only in session remotely. However, he said there is a plan in place if there are more riders waiting than can be picked up.
“If there were more people who wanted to get on, we have a bus on standby that the driver can call to pick them up, but that has not been a problem,” Nichols said.
Students, faculty and staff with a valid USF ID are eligible to ride the Bull Runner. Right now, there are about 350 students living in the dorms as well as students living in off-campus apartments in the surrounding area.
The number of riders for the week of April 1-7 was about 1,448, which is about two riders per hour, according to Nichols.
The Bull Runner makes stops at locations such as the on-campus Publix, apartment complexes, University Mall and University Square Drive — which has stores and restaurants such as Winn-Dixie, Tijuana Flats, Dollar Tree and Panera Bread.
Similar to the change in riders, the Bull Runner fleet has been cut and two routes have been merged.
“We usually have, for each route, one to three buses running, now we have about one to two,” Nichols said. “We also have merged the E and F routes.”
On the Bull Tracker page on the MyUSF app, the merged route can be found under “Route E Modified” and consists of all the stops on both the E and F routes, but is now compacted into one route and does not follow the usual order of stops.
Nichols said Administrative Services has looked into who is still using the service and altering it to meet users’ needs.
“[Our ridership] is mainly the essential personnel riding and some students, so we are trying to align our service to meet the demands of the population we are serving,” Nichols said.
Nichols said just because there has been a cut in buses does not mean the university has laid off any drivers.
“We have some full-time drivers and students who drive buses,” Nichols said. “Many student drivers have elected to stay home, so full-time drivers are the ones mostly working.”
He also said drivers are getting their 40 hours per week by disinfecting buses and completing compliance and safety training if they aren’t driving.
Student drivers can expect to have their jobs with the Bull Runner when they return to campus, Nichols said.
As for how long these changes will be in place is dependent on the CDC, World Health Organization, state and local government, and USF leadership guidance, according to Nichols.
“We are looking at outside guidance for help to battle the pandemic,” Nichols said.
Given the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Florida Department of Health recommends not taking any public transportation during the social distancing period.
However, if students need transportation around the USF area, Nichols said the Bull Runner will still be available.
“The Bull Runner is an auxiliary, but just like other buses in the area, it provides a service to the USF community,” Nichols said. “A handful of people are using it so we still have to operate that and service that population. We are an essential business.”