Fare Free Shares Struggles, Hopes During Pandemic

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COURT HOUSE – A lot has changed since COVID-19 struck the world, yet some things endure. Keeping Cape May County moving remains imperative, and Fare Free Transportation will roll on, helping residents cope with the “new normal,” according to Fare Free’s Director Daniel Mulraney.

“We have been very fortunate, economically, during the pandemic,” stated Mulraney, in an email, Aug. 20. National, state, and local economies suffered as a result of the pandemic, but Mulraney said Fare Free saved money by limiting services and driving hours.

Lower fuel costs and fewer bus repairs help ease the punch on Fare Free’s coffers. According to Mulraney, lifesaving medical services, i.e., dialysis, chemotherapy, radiation, etc.; life-sustaining shopping trips; and Meals on Wheels deliveries compose most of the runs.

Drivers experience limited hours, but no “real personnel problems” occurred, said Mulraney. A few new employees may even join the ranks shortly, adding needed staff members.

One of the issues caused by the pandemic is the limited service, resulting in a passenger decrease. 

“Unfortunately, many residents of the county use our service for other purposes, and they will not be able to ride with us until we return to full service sometime in the near future,” Mulraney wrote.

“Social distancing and the need for additional vehicles to accommodate spacing does not allow us to transport our normal 500 trips per day,” he added. There is no date set for the normal schedule to resume, but Mulraney hopes it will be soon.

“We are very anxious to get back to our regular, countywide service to support and transport all of the residents that have a need for our service, whatever that need may be,” he stated.

The second-largest change to Fare Free involves additional cleaning measures in compliance with Gov. Phil Murphy’s mandates. Although the 50% seating capacity was lifted, regarding public transit, Fare Free is making sure passengers and drivers remain as safe as possible.

“Every driver is provided with cleaning supplies, masks, and gloves,” stated Mulraney. “They clean their buses before and after every shift and spray and wipe seats and railings, as required, during their shifts.”

Regular cleaning and maintenance also help to ensure clean and pleasant rides. Passengers are required to wear masks and remain 6 feet apart whenever possible, per government mandates.

According to Mulraney, there shouldn’t be any negative economic impact on residents.

“With limited service, we have seen a reduced impact on our budget while still providing great service to our residents,” Mulraney wrote. Fare Free officials are “in line” to receive federal CARES Act funding through New Jersey Transit to assist with pandemic costs, partitions, computer systems, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

As Cape May County progresses through these unsettled times, Mulraney is confident that Fare Free will weather the storm.

“Our biggest concerns, at this point, are the safety of our most vulnerable residents and their life-saving or life-sustaining transportation,” stated Mulraney. The future remains uncertain, but plans are being made to meet these challenges.

“We know that the future may require distancing, face masks, and other safety measures, and we have the most professional and highly trained staff available, ready to serve our public,” Mulraney wrote.

Fare Free has been part of county life since 1973. 

To contact Rachel Rogish, email rrogish@cmcherald.com.

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