12 tips for using Seattle's public transit safely during the pandemic

Jun 9 2020, 12:38 pm

The restart button is slowly being pushed on Washington’s economy, prompting certain businesses, services, and attractions to reopen.

And this means many people in Seattle will be returning to public transit over the coming weeks and months — quite possibly for the first time since late March or early April.

SoundTransit estimates that it saw a passenger low during COVID-19, in which ridership on trains and buses decreased by an estimated 83%.

 

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In a region with high living costs and limited parking in key employment centers, public transit will remain crucial to Seattle’s transportation system, now and into the recovery phase. As well,¬†about¬†8.01% of households¬†in the¬†Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area currently do¬†not¬†own a¬†car.

But ridership is still a long way from returning to the 81,022 daily boardings the region’s public transit system experienced prior to the pandemic. Although that is the case, service levels have been restored very close to pre-pandemic levels to support the restart of the economy and physical distancing.

 

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If you have not been a regular rider on public transit since the start of the pandemic, a lot has changed over the past few months.

For SoundTransit, they are performing enhanced cleansing and disinfecting of buses and trains.

For passengers, until there is an effective treatment or vaccine, here are some steps for a safer and more enjoyable trip on public transit. Some of these tips should come as common sense — merely an extension of physical distancing practices onto public transit — while others are steps that are public transit-specific and courteous:

1. Stay at home if you are not feeling well.¬†If you are sick, you should stay at home. Do not touch your face, and cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow — not into the air or your open hand. Contain your microdroplets as much as possible.

2. Talk less and quietly onboard public transit. You release microdroplets whenever you speak, especially when you talk loudly and yell.

3. Wear a face mask or covering. As recommended by Seattle and King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin, along with King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, you are urged to wear a face mask or covering while making a trip on public transit. This protects both yourself and others from potential coronavirus-carrying microdroplets, and they are an added tool given that proper physical distancing will not always be possible, especially when ridership begins to increase.

4. Avoid rush hour; travel during non-peak times when there are less people. Yes, there is still a peak rush on public transit, when it is more crowded. According to SoundTransit, these are the peak periods for ridership: 6 am to 9 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm on weekdays.

5.¬†Allow for extra travel time. Wait for the next bus or train if it is too full.¬†Some service levels have been adjusted due to the change in demand. Account for a possible longer travel time if your bus or train is “too full” and you want to wait for the next one.

6. Be patient, respect other passengers and drivers, and pay your fare. We are all in this together. Be considerate; treat others like how you would like to be treated.

 

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7. “Air tap” your Orca Card.¬†Unless your Orca Card is in a thick cardholder or case, your card does not need to make physical contact with the card readers on buses and fare booths. Hovering your card in front of the card reader should be sufficient for enabling your proof of payment.

8. Let other passengers exit the vehicle first. Whether it be the buses or trains, let passengers disembark from the vehicle first before boarding. Allow disembarking passengers to clear and provide them with some space.

9. Avoid making seat buddies; give extra space. Although physical distancing will not always be possible, spread out as much as possible when inside the vessels.

10. Respect the bus seat-only capacity. As a physical distancing measure, all buses are now limiting maximum capacities. The new optimal number of passengers is 12 on a 40-foot bus and 18 on a 60-foot bus. When the capacity is reached, the driver will not pick up any further passengers.

11. Clean and sanitize your hands as soon as possible after a trip on public transit. Thoroughly wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds, especially if you have come into contact with commonly touched surfaces, including fare machines, fare gates, turnstiles, poles, railings, seats, doors, windows, and buttons. Consider keeping a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times.

12. Consider active transportation. If feasible, especially for shorter distance trips, consider walking or cycling for the whole trip or part of the trip.

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