Red Rose Transit Authority will temporarily lay off 20 of its 67 drivers by Monday, according to its executive director.

It also is reducing bus service amid a dramatic drop in ridership in recent weeks brought on by COVID-19.

“Service has just plummeted,” said David Kilmer, executive director of the South Central Transit Authority, which oversees the Red Rose Transit and Berks Area Regional Transportation authorities.

Ridership at Red Rose Transit is down by more than 70%, according to Kilmer, who said the last two days have averaged a little over 2,000 passengers, significantly down from the usual 7,500 on weekdays.

The bus drivers union agreed to temporary voluntary layoffs, Kilmer said. Typically, layoffs are done by seniority, but the union opted to allow older drivers “more susceptible” to COVID-19 to volunteer for the cuts.

John Habanec, president of the bus driver’s union, deferred comment to Kilmer.

Kilmer said the authority expects to take a financial hit but said he is confident reserve funds and government assistance could balance a shortfall.

Bus systems in Lancaster and Berks counties began offering free rides Monday. Kilmer said Wednesday afternoon the free rides will continue until further notice.

Riders are required to enter and depart the buses through the rear entrance unless they have a disability requiring a kneeler.

Supplies for sanitizing products are on backorder, Kilmer said, but he reiterated all buses are wiped and sanitized when returned to the garage for the day.

“We want to make sure we could provide a safe environment, especially when all the other businesses are being closed and measures are being taken to stop the spread,” Kilmer said. “If we have one driver test positive, that would shut us down for sure.”

Riders are encouraged to use “common sense” social distancing.

“You would hope that people would do that themselves,” Kilmer said regarding spacing on the bus.

At present, drivers are not enforcing distancing measures.

“I really don’t want the drivers to getting into any potential confrontations,” he said.