Ahead of the game

Aug. 28, 2020

Transit agencies staying one step ahead of the coronavirus

Since the earliest coronavirus (COVID-19) cases hit the U.S., protecting the public and transit employees has been top of mind for many public transportation agencies in the nation.

Even before cases were widespread in mid-March, agencies such as the MTA in New York had already laid out disinfecting protocols as a precautionary measure against the virus as early as the first week of March.

I myself recall not thinking too much about the significance of this move at the time, as it would still be weeks before statewide shutdowns and social distancing measures were in place following the rapid spread of the virus across the country. The week following the MTA’s announcement, I traveled from Chicago to Las Vegas for this year’s CONEXPO/CON-AGG 2020, which saw roughly 130,000 attendees at the show. In that same week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic and the White House declared the spread of the virus as a national emergency. 

As these events unfolded during the trade show, I found myself feeling nervous every time I took the Las Vegas Monorail transit service between my hotel and the convention center, taking care not to touch any handrails. If I did touch anything, dousing my hands in sanitizer would be the immediate next step. All this while being surrounded by other convention center attendees on an often crowded monorail.

In the following weeks, I kept seeing story after story about various public transit agencies taking steps to combat the spread of the virus on public transportation. In Massachusetts, the MBTA bus service implemented a rear-door only boarding policy in order to protect bus drivers. Colorado suspended some of its intercity bus service to limit the spread of coronavirus between cities. And the FTA issued a safety advisory to reduce the spread of the virus among public transit employees and passengers. The FTA’s directive came on the heels of various transit worker unions taking action to demand better protections for workers from transit agencies.

Well, we are now into August, and the work for transit agencies continues. Which brings me to one of our featured articles for the month—“Public Transit Q&A: How the CTA has operated during COVID-19”. In this feature, we discuss the various steps the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has taken to combat the spread of coronavirus on its public transit vehicles and facilities. 

One of the solutions discussed by the CTA was to increase frequency of service on some bus and train routes to help reduce overcrowding while still ensuring service for those who rely on public transit in the Chicago area. “In fact, we’re one of the few transit agencies in the country that did not reduce scheduled service during the pandemic,” the CTA told Traffic & Transit.

Back in May, Traffic & Transit posted a news story about the MTA deploying ultraviolet light technology that was believed to help kill coronavirus on the agency’s buses and trains. When asked if they were employing any similar tactics, CTA officials said they were in contact with MTA officials regarding their UV lighting pilot program, but were also implementing a few solutions of their own. “We recently added two new technologies: electrostatic sprayers that produce a fine-mist that clings to nearly every surface to ensure a more thorough cleaning, as well as use of an antimicrobial surface coating designed to prevent viruses from attaching to surfaces,” CTA officials said.

In addition to these steps taken, the CTA says the agency is also taking steps to promote social distancing and limit train and bus capacity. CTA officials said they are also working to make sure their employees are equipped with the proper protective gear and that the agency is implementing extensive cleaning and sanitation procedures in line with CDC recommendations on all of its transit vehicles. 

If similar action is taken across the country, the public transit industry may be in good shape when it comes to staying a step ahead of the coronavirus and keeping transit workers and passengers safe throughout the duration of the pandemic. Here’s hoping!

About The Author: Bruns is associate managing editor of Traffic & Transit and associate editor of Roads & Bridges.