Masked rush-hour commuters. Subway cars and stations that reek of bleach. Legs crossed with empty seats on each side on the express.
As US cities move to reopen on the other side of the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, beleaguered transit systems focused on shuttling essential workers to hospitals, nursing homes and food markets are scrambling to meet the demands of that new world.
“This is going to be a slower ramp up than I think anybody expected, even a few weeks ago,” said Paul Skoutelas, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, a trade group.
“As long as we remain in a shutdown mode or a partial mode, I think that ramp up will be rather slow.”
From New York to Chicago to San Francisco, the nation’s transit systems are still working out the details of a return to a semblance of normalcy on buses and rails.
This is what it might look like, according to industry experts and policies implemented during the health crisis.
Keeping people away from each other
Under a pilot program at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City’s subways, buses and two commuter rail lines, vinyl shields have been installed on buses to further separate passengers and drivers.
The MTA is consulting trade associations and transit agencies around the world to develop a plan to increase service as the state reopens, according to spokeswoman Meredith Daniels.
“The focus will remain on customers, employees, cleaning and social distancing,” Daniels said in a statement, adding that a “temperature brigade” of medically trained personnel will continue to check employees for fever.
The MTA is checking more than 3,500 employees a day for fevers.
Dorval R. Carter Jr., Chicago Transit Authority president, was short on specifics but said the agency was “preparing a versatile, strategic framework” that would allow CTA to “meet the demands of the ‘new normal.’”
“It is our responsibility to meet that ‘new normal’ with innovation, agile service delivery and creative investments in our people and infrastructure to ensure public transportation helps to drive our recovery,” Carter said in a statement.
In southeast Michigan, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), said it, too, was developing a plan.
“Should social distancing be continued we will monitor ridership and add buses as we are able to increase frequencies along our higher ridership corridors, to accommodate heavier loads and allow for personal space on buses,” agency spokeswoman Beth Gibbons said in a statement.
SMART has health screenings of drivers, and separates riders and bus drivers with yellow chains to provide a safe zone for operators.