Phoenix Limits Bus Riders, Considers Convention Center As Hospital

By Christina Estes
Published: Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 9:16am
Updated: Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 11:34am

Stairs leading to convention center south building
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Phoenix may consider allowing two exhibit halls in the South Building of the Convention Center to be used as an alternative medical facility if needed.

Business at the Phoenix Convention Center has disappeared since the coronavirus outbreak, but the crisis could lead to a new use.

On Monday, Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney told the council he’s been approached about the convention center being used as an alternative medical facility. 

“It's possible that we could say yes to that and get it ready and it only had limited use, but the flip side of that is if you wait until your capacity is overflowing in the hospitals and you just are now starting to prepare other facilities, then you’ll really be behind the curve, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” he sid.

Dohoney said no formal request has yet been made but staff is beginning to work on a general memorandum of understanding which would require the council’s approval. He would recommend two exhibit halls in the South Building be used which would provide 82,000 square feet, a loading dock, 14 truck bays and 2,800 spaces in a parking garage. 

The Army Corps of Engineers is working to reopen St. Luke’s Medical Center in Phoenix for coronavirus patients as early as this month. The hospital closed last fall. 

Also on Monday, the council unanimously approved limiting the number of passengers on local bus routes. For a traditional 40-foot bus, passengers will be limited to ten. For a 60-foot bus, they will be limited  to 15 and for the smaller circulator buses, the limit will be five passengers. Exceptions will be made for wheelchair and mobility aid users.

Deputy City Manager Mario Paniagua said drivers will have discretion: “To reduce any conflicts between passengers and drivers that we would allow the operators not to have to strictly enforce that rule, to use their judgement, to avoid any conflicts with people.”

As of Monday night, the transit department had not yet determined when the limits would take effect. At least two Valley bus drivers have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. 

To maintain a safe distance from the driver, Phoenix already requires passengers to board at the back. Deputy City Manager Mario Paniagua said that means people can’t reach the fare box and that’s creating financial challenges.

“We’re going to have to talk about potentially future service reductions to make up those losses, I mean that’s really what it comes down to,” he said. 

Preliminary data from March show bus ridership on 38 local routes is down 45% while ridership on 6 RAPID/Express routes is down 65%.