Government shutdown impacts North Valley bus commute

MERCED, Calif.

Tourists from Ireland traveled 5,000 miles for their dream vacation, but ended up waiting three hours in Merced for a YARTS bus to take them just outside of Yosemite.

"The YARTS buses have been cut in half, and we're now waiting around, and it's ridiculous, especially for a country of this size and power it has in the world," said Laura McFarland, visiting from Ireland.

Laura McFarland and Sam Hanna were hoping to spend two days inside the national park but had to change those plans because of the government shutdown.

"It's world renowned scenery, so hopefully we'll still be able to take advantage of that, but it would obviously be a lot better if the park is open and we could use the facilities," said Sam Hanna, visiting from Ireland.

Many tourists have cancelled their plans altogether, which is having a major impact on the Yosemite area regional transportation system.

"Typically we haul between 60 and 65 percent of our ridership is tourists, so that's pretty much the entire segment, just gone," YARTS Transit Manager Dick Whittington said.

The lack of riders forced YARTS to cut its daily routes from six to just three. That means commuters who take the buses between jobs, homes, schools, and other places in Merced and Mariposa Counties will have to work around the changes.

"We really worked hard to try to adjust those schedules to make them work for everybody," Whittington said.

The reduced routes also mean drivers, who are contracted through Via Adventures, have been trimmed from eight full shifts to four partial shifts. Via's CEO says he's trying to give them charter trips instead, but those are also down right now because of Yosemite's closure. Businesses along the routes continue to suffer because visitors to the national park spend about $370 million a year in the surrounding communities.

"That's a million dollars a day, roughly when the park is closed. We're a part of that, so we'd like to see that get fixed really soon," Whittington said.

Reducing the number of YARTS trips has a ripple effect on other businesses. Mechanics, fuel vendors, and those who clean the buses are also losing money while the shutdown continues. But YARTS plans to return to its normal winter schedule as soon as possible once Yosemite re-opens.

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