As the coronavirus spreads through our region, front-line workers risk their health every day. This includes transit personnel who operate, maintain, clean, and provide security for our buses and trains. Like health care workers and first responders, transit personnel cannot work from home and they must interact with customers every day.
During the pandemic, public transit is considered an essential service, and rightfully so. We connect people to hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores and other places we all rely on.
Yet, by its very design, mass transit brings people together in enclosed spaces, making social distancing especially challenging.
As general manager of Metro Transit, I never imagined I would urge people to stop riding transit. But during this time, riders’ and operators’ safety depends on people using transit only for essential travel. Even for essential trips, I implore potential riders to consider other options.
We are reducing risks for those who have no other options. Our operators and police officers are wearing masks, and we are encouraging customers to cover their noses and mouths when riding. We are reminding customers to not use transit if they are sick. When riders have no choice but to ride transit, we are asking them to keep ample space between themselves and others. Riders are asked to not board buses if the number of riders will prevent social distancing.
We are also spending more time cleaning our vehicles and facilities. To accommodate greater social distancing, larger articulated buses and more buses are being moved to routes with the greatest ridership. We are temporarily requiring riders who can board buses from the rear door to do so. This reduces interaction between operators and customers.
All these efforts are anchored in our responsibility to make transit as safe as possible for riders and transit employees. We appreciate that many of our customers are staying away from transit; our ridership is down over 70% systemwide since the start of the pandemic.
We look forward to when the pandemic is behind us. We will have a long road ahead to rebuild transit ridership. We want to come back as a better and stronger transit service.
But, for now, thank you for not riding — and if you must ride, for doing everything possible to limit exposure to other riders and transit employees.
Wes Kooistra is general manager of Metro Transit.