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story.lead_photo.caption An empty bus stop soaks up late afternoon sun last month along Southwest Boulevard. JeffTran has temporarily suspended bus services due to short staffing caused by COVID-19. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

This article is free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community.

Due to staffing shortages caused by COVID-19, all JeffTran services were temporarily suspended as of Thursday.

JeffTran fixed bus routes and the city's paratransit service Handi-Wheels will not operate beginning at noon Thursday until at least Monday, when the situation will be reassessed.

This announcement comes about a week after JeffTran first announced staffing shortages and began running alternating routes to make up for the loss.

Transit division director Mark Mehmert said the staffing issues only increased after Friday, with not only drivers but administrative staff being affected.

"It's just to the point that we can't keep enough folks in the seat to keep the system operating, so the decision was made it was best to shut down rather than provide a sub-par service that people can't count on, and potentially continue to experience more COVID-related issues," Mehmert said.

He said they had to shut down the Handi-Wheels service because of the shortage of administrative staff required to operate it.

When the service will resume is up in the air and hard to predict, Mehmert said. On Friday, they said they would be able to keep going with the alternating routes.

"You can only stretch that rubber band so far, and we're at that point where it's in danger of breaking," Mehmert said. "It'll just depend on how the health of our staff is going at that point. If we have folks come back and we stabilize, then we'll be able to hopefully come back on Tuesday."

Hiring temporary staff to fill in isn't an option either, with certain training and licenses being required of drivers, Mehmert said.

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For those who rely on the JeffTran system for transport, there are only a few alternative options.

Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft are available in Jefferson City, although rides will be more expensive than the bus fare.

Rides through these services can be called via mobile phone applications or the companies' websites and, unlike the buses, require a form of electronic payment.

OATS Transit is available for seniors older than 65 or those between 18-64 with a disability. Rides must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance by calling the Mid-Missouri OATS Transit office at 1-800-269-6287.

Brian Vogeler, director of the Center of Hope Salvation Army shelter, said many of their residents rely on the bus system to get around the city.

"Most of them are dependent on the public transportation system," Vogeler said.

The shelter's only ability to help residents with transportation needs has been to provide bus passes or fares. Vogeler said he wasn't aware of any other public transportation options other than the ride-sharing services.

If residents are able, the city also has a system of Greenway trails that can be used for walking or biking.

While the shutdown is unprecedented and JeffTran hopes to return as soon as possible, Mehmert said he encourages people to always have another option for transit.

"While we love that people depend on us for transportation, it's always good to have a back up," Mehmert said. "We really do feel for our clients and riders. We wouldn't be doing this if we felt we had any choice in the matter."

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