As the U.S. grapples with the ongoing challenges presented by the coronavirus and its impacts, many transit agencies are examining how adjustments to daily life and the needs of transit riders will impact their operations over the coming months and years. For agencies of all sizes and modes, leaders are struggling with how to balance providing service that safeguards the health of both transit employees and customers, and countering the dramatic decrease in ridership that has left many systems in a deep budgetary hole that may last a significant length of time.
At agencies such as WMATA in Washington, D.C., employee safety is driving a slow, incremental approach to reopening the system at its previous service levels and capacity. According to Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager of WMATA, “What’s driving our recovery plan first and foremost is the safety of our employees…And then the safety of our customers. And that will drive what we can do, when we can do it. Part of that is capacity driven and obviously making sure everyone is safe.” (See the full Washington Post article on WMATA’s recovery plan).
Even for smaller, bus-only agencies, managers are struggling with a catch-22: how to ensure enough fares to keep transit running while simultaneously maintaining the social distancing required by preventative best practices? While exposure for some of these systems is overall lower than it is in COVID-19 hotspots in major cities, agencies will need to adjust their operations and manage rider expectations while adopting more advanced technology and practices to manage the spread of infection. This op-ed from Mass Transit offers one view of how transit properties might be able to tackle these issues. While transit may feel the repercussions of the pandemic for a long time, an adaptable, flexible approach will be needed to sustain services and keep systems moving.