Election Day in Vallejo and Benicia offered a new feature: free bus service from the suburban residential areas into polling stations scattered across the two small cities in Solano County on the edge of the San Francisco Bay.

From 6:30 a.m. until the polls closed last night at 8:00, the county bus service, SolTrans, provided no-cost service on their usual routes, carrying people to stops close to polling places in government buildings, community centers and churches. 

The buses run at roughly one-third capacity per bus, due to social distancing restrictions, with a maximum of 10 passengers on a bus with the capacity for about 36, or 58 including standing room. 

In Benicia on Tuesday, passengers sat with several seats between them, one to a row, all other seats crossed off with caution tape. No one spoke  as the bus rattled through  town, dropping voters off at stops within walking distance of downtown polling locations. 

“This year, given the political climate, we wanted to show our community our commitment to giving free access to the polls,” said SolTrans Public Information Officer Mandi Renshaw. 

“Voting is so important, we wanted to make sure everyone has the opportunity to exercise that right.” 

The Solano County Registrar of Voters also initiated a pick-up and drop-off service for residents who were unable to travel or were quarantining at home as a result of Covid-19 exposure. John Gardner, the Solano County Deputy Registrar of Voters, estimated that close to one hundred people used the service to obtain or drop off their ballots during early voting and on election day.

“Everyone received their vote-by-mail ballot but we wanted to make it clear that isn’t the only way voters can send in their ballots,” he said. 

Positive experiences of SolTrans’s free bus service this year, Renshaw said, makes it likely they’ll continue the service in future national elections.

Eliza Partika is a reporter at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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Eliza is a reporter at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.