The restart button has been hit on British Columbia’s economy, prompting certain businesses, services, and attractions to reopen.
And this means many people in Metro Vancouver will be returning to public transit over the coming weeks and months — quite possibly for the first time since late March or early April.
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TransLink says it saw just a COVID-19 ridership low of just 240,000 boardings on April 1. In recent weeks, there has been a gradual increase, reaching 380,000 boardings by June 1.
In a region with high living costs, a small highway network, and limited parking in key employment centres, public transit will remain crucial to Metro Vancouver’s transportation system, now and into the recovery phase. As well, about 150,000 households in Metro Vancouver currently do not own a car.
But ridership is still a long way from returning to the 1.5 million 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.
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 TransLink, they are performing enhanced cleansing and disinfecting of buses, trains, and ferries.
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 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 BC’s provincial health officer, 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. For those who want to look the part, over the coming weeks reusable, TransLink-branded face masks will be made available online.
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 TransLink, these are the peak periods for ridership: 5:30 am to 8 am and 2 pm to 6 pm on weekdays; 6:30 am to 8 am and 2 pm to 6:45 pm on Saturdays; and 7 am to 8 am and 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm on Sundays.
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.
7. Follow directional signage and physical distancing floor decals. Passengers are urged to follow the new wayfinding signage, and stand on the two-metre spaced decals while waiting for a fare machine, the next train on the platform, or for the next bus. Decals can be found at SkyTrain stations and select bus stops.
8. Do not rush for the fare gates. SkyTrain and SeaBus fare gates are now limited to enter or exit only to enable physical distancing. Directional signage indicates the appropriate fare gate for entry and exit.
9. “Air tap” your Compass Card. Unless your Compass 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 gates. Hovering your card in front of the card reader with a one cm gap or less should be sufficient for enabling your proof of payment.
10. 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.
11. Avoid making seat buddies; give extra space. Although physical distancing will not always be possible, spread out as much as possible when inside a bus, train, and ferry.
12. Respect the bus seat-only capacity. As a physical distancing measure, all buses are now filling up to a 66% capacity, specifically the seating capacity of the vehicle. When the capacity is reached, the driver will not pick up any further passengers.
13. SeaBus vessels are operating at 50% capacity. To allow passengers to practice some physical distancing while onboard the ferry, passengers are being asked to use the turnstiles at the terminals to ensure each vessel operates with the seating capacity limit on each sailing.
14. 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. TransLink has also installed hand sanitizer dispensers at seven busy SkyTrain stations: Waterfront Station, Commercial-Broadway Station, Lougheed Town Centre Station, Coquitlam Central Station, Surrey Central Station, Marine Drive Station, and Richmond-Brighouse Station.
15. Consider active transportation. If feasible, especially for shorter distance trips, consider walking or cycling for the whole trip or part of the trip.