Martz Group will resume limited bus service to New York City and Philadelphia next week, the company announced Monday.
Martz — which suspended operations to those two cities on March 27 because of the coronavirus pandemic — plans extensive precautions to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19, company President Scott Henry said.
Among other measures, buses that have 58 seats will be limited to 14 passengers to ensure proper social distancing, Henry said.
Scranton and Wilkes-Barre will not be included in the resumption of service to and from New York, according to a schedule posted to the Martz website.
When service to New York City resumes May 11, buses will run from Mount Pocono to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, with stops in Delaware Water Gap.
One bus will run each day in each direction from Scranton to Philadelphia, including a stop in Wilkes-Barre.
The limited resumption of service will allow front-line workers to travel to and from their jobs safely, Henry said.
“The service is going to be tailored for our essential service customers in New York,” he said.
Martz has heard from many people who live in the Poconos and work in New York City, who used to ride the bus each day and now are forced to drive to work, Henry said. That adds stress to an already stressful situation, he said.
“These people can’t do their jobs from home,” Henry said. “We have a sense of duty and obligation to our customers. We transport a lot of front-line workers who are heroes in this fight.”
The limited service will end in Mount Pocono, for now, because most of the commuters Martz transports to New York live in the Poconos, Henry said. The company has no target date to resume service from Scranton and Wilkes-Barre to New York, he said.
The Philadelphia route will resume because some essential workers commute to that city from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, Henry said.
Martz came under fire from the public and elected officials in March, with some saying the company waited too long to suspend operations to New York, one of the hardest-hit areas in the pandemic.
Among the company’s critics was state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-121, Wilkes-Barre. In late March, Pashinski said transporting people from New York to Northeast Pennsylvania posed serious health risks.
When word leaked last week that Martz planned to resume service this month, Pashinski said he would wait to learn more about the company’s plans before he criticized or praised them.
On Monday, Pashinski said he is cautiously optimistic Martz will be able to resume service safely, given the safety precautions it outlined and the downward trend of positive coronavirus cases in New York and Pennsylvania.
“It’s all about the numbers,” Pashinski said. “As long as we can keep these numbers going down.”
People should still stay home if possible and should wear masks whenever they leave home, especially if they will be in an enclosed environment such as a bus, Pashinski said.
Gov. Tom Wolf has issued a statewide stay-at-home order and ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close because of the pandemic.
However, transportation companies are included in a state list of life-sustaining businesses, so Martz is authorized to resume service. Company officials have pointed out that Martz suspended service voluntarily, rather than by governmental order, in late March.
Martz President Scott Henry described the precautions Martz will take to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers. Besides limiting the number of passengers to 14 per bus, safety measures include:
Face masks will be required for all passengers and drivers.
Hand sanitizer stations will be placed at bus loading areas, and hand sanitizer will be available on buses.
Seats on buses will be blocked off and clearly marked, to make sure passengers maintain proper distance.
Buses will be cleaned and sanitized during the day between legs of a round trip.
All Martz employees will have their temperature checked each day.
Passengers are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets online and use a touchless boarding pass on their smartphone, to reduce contact for both passengers and drivers.
The revised Martz bus schedule, which takes effect May 11, is posted to the company website, martzgroup.com.