Columbia County Public Transit is delivering groceries to residents.
With ridership down due to government-ordered stay-home measures statewide to dampen the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the transit service is using part of its fleet for free pickup and delivery of groceries.
Here’s how it works: Customers order and pay for their purchases to stores via phone. They then contact the transit system and request a grocery pickup.
Once the purchase has been confirmed, a transit driver picks up the groceries and delivers them — all while following virus health protocols.
The grocery runs help the community and allows transit system to record trips, which ultimately determine funding from the state Department of Transportation, said David Ocampo, Columbia County Transit manager.
He said half his fleet is out of service while riders adhere to stay-home mandates for nonessential businesses and their employees, students and others.
Currently, two buses are making the two round trips to Walla Walla for essential services, with a maximum of four people per bus, given proper distancing requirements. The vehicles are disinfected after every trip.
The change is another turn amid myriad transitions to grapple with the pandemic.
“The impact on this is still being felt,” Ocampo said. “It always feels like smaller communities take a bigger hit so we are just taking it day by day.”
Two weeks ago the transit system switched to a fare-free model. That was followed by Gov. Jay Inslee’s order last week to shelter at home except for certain needs, such as travel for work characterized as “essential,” medical visits, and trips to pharmacies and grocery stores.
Rides to WorkSource offices also might be added because more Columbia County residents have become unemployed due to nonessential business layoffs and shutdowns, Ocampo said.
For more Columbia County Transit route and scheduling information, call 509-382-1647.