Coronavirus image from wikicommons

Update: Governor Jay Inslee issued a “Stay home, stay health” order, with a list of essential workers who are exempt, Monday afternoon.

It may seem like an Age ago, but it has been less than two weeks since the United Nations’ World Health Organization declared covid-19 to be a pandemic.

By the end of last week, local transit agencies had made their first move to implement social distance orders — that is, that people should stay at least 6 feet away from each other — by enabling rear door entrance and egress on all buses, and reducing contacts via fare equipment, both achieved by sacrificing any further fare collection until further notice. Only riders with mobility aids or otherwise needing to use the ramp will be permitted to use the front door.

In an act of unfortunately poor timing, significant service reductions are being implemented starting today, even before we get to see what fare freedom does for transit ridership. The end result is that social distance on buses may be much less this week than last week.

We also don’t know what ridership would have been like on Link if ST went back to the old pre-Connect-2020 schedule, which actually had a schedule. At publication time, ST has not provided a Link schedule to us for this week’s service change, but merely indicated that headway would be 14 minutes.

In another case of unfortunately poor timing, riders from freshly-truncated Metro route 255 will now be expected to transfer at UW Station, or increase crowding on other downtown-bound buses.

In one piece of good news, Metro has improved its text-for-departures program to remove cancelled runs. Text your bus stop ID # to 62550 to find out when the next bus will arrive.

Let’s crowdsource. Are your buses and trains more or less crowded than less week? Are you able to maintain social distance (6 feet) from other passengers while on transit, and while waiting for transit? Have you switched to other routes or other modes that allow you to maintain social distance? Are you prepared to bunker down at home for the next several months or maybe more than a year?

It’s beginning to look a lot like curfew

While Washington State was the earliest and hardest hit by covid-19, other states have jumped to higher levels of mandated social distancing faster.

By the end of this past weekend, the governors of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio had all issued stay-at-home orders for their population not involved in essential jobs. Update: The governors of Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have also now issued or announced they will issue stay-at-home orders for all residents in their state who don’t have essential jobs.

Each of these states have treated transit as an essential service. However, falling ridership and added expenses for cleansing against covid-19 have created a financial emergency for transit agencies, and so emergency service reductions have become the standard practice. Moreover, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and many other transit agencies are begging the federal government for a bailout.

The City of Wuhan, where the outbreak started, actually shut transit and most other modes of transportation down for several weeks, in order to get the virus under control. With the rest of the world treating the virus less seriously, their sacrifice might have been in vain.

51 Replies to “Other states issue stay-at-home orders while transit gets less-social-distancy here”

    1. Believe I read on Twitter that ST was going to use 3-car trains because ridership had fallen so much that distancing was still possible. Also to reduce disinfecting requirements with more cars out of service.

    2. I’ve seen 3 car trains this morning, sparsely occupied and they seem to be moving at reduced speed for some reason.

  1. Hindsight is 20/20, but I have to question why politicians continued to hold to the “transit is essential” argument even while also saying “stay home unless absolutely necessary.” That’s a very fine line of argument, the nuance of which (medical professions need to get to work vs. I “need” to get to my friend’s house) is completely lost on most people.

    People hear contradictory arguments and some (many) will decide to just continue as if nothing had changed.

    1. Just because people are idiots doesn’t mean a sane policy should be abandoned. Restaurants have been closed down, but grocery stores haven’t. It isn’t that hard to figure out the nuance.

  2. Shut transit down, not only to protect riders but also drivers and other staff. Anyone working an essential job should have free/subsidized alternative forms of transportation.

    1. What alternative? I suppose, for employees that already have cars, hospitals can temporarily waive parking charges. But, what about those that don’t? Telling them to carpool won’t work because that puts co-workers at risk. Giving them free taxi service puts more taxis at risk than just running buses puts bus drivers.

      1. Yes waiving parking fees, providing vouchers for uber/lyft, etc. Public transit is public for everyone so even a private shuttle for only hospital staff is still safer than a bus.

      2. You basically want a quick, massive, highly complex transportation system to be created out of the blue, in hopes that it will be safer than simply using transit. First you start by creating a registry, to see who qualifies. That means medical personnel, but also those working in grocery stores, pharmacies, food processing plants, as well as those that maintain the transportation industry (to name just a few). Then you have to have enough drivers, and enough vehicles to manage it all.

        Let’s say it is done with cars. That means instead of a dozen people on a bus, all spread out, each in their own row, you have three cars, each with four people in them. Not only does it take longer to get to work, but you get to right next to people. Everyone in the car is put at greater risk, including the driver.

        Then there is the question of verification. Apparently there are lots of people out there, just riding the buses for fun. What is to stop them from grabbing a ride on one of these free taxis? You would need some sort of verification system. So now, the driver checks the ID of each person picked up outside the grocery store or hospital to prevent cheating (sorry buddy, I know you have a broken leg, but you aren’t essential — just hobble on home). Keep in mind, Metro just ended fare collection to avoid personal contact, but you want people to ask for ID.

        Not only is it impractical, it is worse for public health.

        Or do you think the military should do it all, like in China? Is that what you are suggesting? Call out the national guard, have a draft (so we have enough soldiers) and then implement this massive transportation system.

        I really wish people would stop thinking that China is a country to be emulated. It isn’t. They screwed up the handling of this virus, just as they screw up other things. That is the nature of totalitarian regimes. They can easily mobilize the populace — to say, go to war — but it doesn’t mean that they handle problems as well as nearby (democratic) countries.

      3. Uber and Lyft are probably riskier in terms of spreading the virus than the bus. It is impossible for passenger and driver to maintain a 6-foot separation distance with priuses. Plus, Uber and Lyft cars are not likely to be cleaned as regularly as buses, since Metro has money to clean their fleet, which the typical Lyft/Uber driver does not.

        I do think it is reasonable for doctors and nurses who drive to work to be temporarily exempt from having to pay for parking (if there’s a parking shortage, the hospital can lease additional space from neighboring businesses which are closed). But, that’s not sufficient to allow a complete shutdown of the public transit system.

    2. +1

      Wuhan (and 13 surrounding cities) shut down all air travel, trains, buses, subways, and ferries to a population of 33 million. And in an area bigger than the size King County, essential workers still got to and from work. And people still managed to get to hospitals and the stores to get food. And they shut down the spread of the virus, which should be our primary goal.

      1. You do realize that China is a military dictatorship, right? They didn’t just shut down the transit system, they shut down everything, forced millions into home detention and forced ethnic minorities into slave labor camps. Not only was their response repressive, it wasn’t that effective.

        Public health experts don’t look to China as the model — they look to South Korea.,,,

        Better yet, just do a little research yourself (it really isn’t that hard).

        Or that other countries (like South Korea) hand

      2. Ross, the lie was put out that if a city shut down public transit, no one could get to the store and medical workers couldn’t get to their job. My Wuhan example was a rebuttal to that lie. People with no cars are still getting around there. People with no cars will get around here. Humans are a resilient, adaptive creature. It’s why we’re the top of the food chain.

        Sam. President, Xi Jinping fanclub.

      3. That article says nothing about which workers China deemed essential, where their jobs were relative to their houses, and how they got to work. It says large supermarkets were shut down, implying small ones remained open. What kinds of supermarkets does China have? In the US historically most of them were corner stores. Now almost all of them are large, and the “small stores” sell mostly snacks and highly-processed unhealthy things masquerading as food. In many neighborhoods there’s no convenience store or any other business or medical facility within walking distance. Workers at essential jobs usually don’t live near them, and can’t afford any of the housing around those jobs, and legions of low-paid workers can’t afford either a car or a taxi every day.

        Setting up a free-taxi system is a pipe dream. The closest would be Access taxi vouchers. Access members can get both dedicated vans and half-price vouchers for regular taxis. The county could add all essential workers to Access and give them free vouchers. There would still be the gigantic problems of registering and qualifying people, delivering the vouchers without creating crowds, having enough taxis for all of them, and especially having enough taxis for their rush-hour surges at shift boundaries. Buses already do all that and are distributed throughout the county.

        As for people taking buses for non-essential trips, how much is this happening? You have to quantify it to know if it’s a problem. I didn’t ride a bus for a week except yesterday I carried heavy groceries home on the bus. There were only 5-6 people on the 11 and all of them were sitting a few rows apart. There were lots of articulated buses on 3rd Avenue although I wasn’t sure whether there were more artics than usual. You can’t just assume free fares will swamp the system. In most cities with free fares it doesn’t.

        To really answer yours and Barman’s concern you need to stop focusing on a no-transit policy and start looking at what China deemed essential, how far they live from work, how they get to work, and everything else about China’s mobilization policies, and which of those policies are acceptable in a non-totalitarian country. I’m sure Sam is already writing a Page 2 article about it.

      4. Sam, China is a military dictatorship! I don’t know how many times I have to write that. The reason they could function is that the military simply took over. The U. S. military isn’t prepared to handle all of the standard operations of the city, nor would it result in better health outcomes.

    3. And furthermore:

      Implicit in the suggestion that we shut down transit is that we have a safer, more hygienic alternative. There is little to no evidence to support that theory. Consider the act of refueling private vehicles. This is not Oregon. In Washington State, drivers fill up their own gas tank (thank you very much). Just today I saw a woman filling up her tank, using her bare hand. Her bare hand! It stands to reason that this random sampling (of one) could mean that many people — perhaps even a majority — take no precautions whatsoever when it comes to adding petrol to their vehicle. This is an obvious health hazard.

      In contrast, I board a bus without using my hands. I have for years. At most I use my forearms on the bar to handle an aggressive driver whipping around a forty footer. Most of time I can walk all the way to the very back of the bus, taking the premier seat (one on the corner) without touching a thing. This is while boarding at the front (it is even easier when boarding in the back). The point being, only my back touches the fabric surface, while I lean back, and either admire the view, or pull out my magazine. It is possible that germs could be spread through my back, but it unlikely. Even if I had the disease, it is unlikely that my germs could easily be picked up on that particular seat. Throw in the fact that the buses are cleaned routinely now, and not that many people will use the seat I choose (which is no longer the premier seat — safety first) and the odds of spreading the disease through the bus are very low.

      In contrast, if dozens of people touch a gas pump each and every day, you have a very high chance of transmission. Absent further study, we can not assume that people driving — and filling up their pump — is better than people riding the bus.

      1. A couple of anecdotal observations:
        1. My spouse refueled the car last week, at a Freddy’s I believe, and they were wiping down the gas pumps after each use. I have no idea how widespread this practice has been in the region however, or even across that particular outlet’s stations. On the other hand, after a shopping run to Costco the other day we also got gas there at their station. I observed no such protocol being employed at that time.
        2. The woman you observed using her bare hands on the pump may have sanitized her hands before and after said use while inside her vehicle. We ourselves have been keeping hand sanitizer and bleach wipes inside our vehicles for the time being. It’s certainly possible other drivers are doing likewise and trying to be responsible citizens while also trying to minimize their own exposure.
        3. The keypads at the gas pumps also represent a potential health threat and need to be viewed in the same regard as the pump handles. This also holds true for all point of sale keypads that customers may be touching during the check out process for their purchases. This includes credit card/debit card machines and the self-check touch screen registers at grocery stores and other retailers. (We have been using disposable gloves and hand sanitizer for such transactions.) Just the other day I watched a man rub his nose, then use the touch screen to ring up his purchase and then touch his face again. Yikes!

  3. By the way, since everyone is so concerned about the virus spreading through transportation, here are some things that are allowed right now:

    1) Greyhound bus travel
    2) Flights within the U. S.
    3) Driving from state to state

    All three are far more likely to spread the disease and all were shut down in parts of China. Not that the Chinese response was ideal or easily replicated (because they are a totalitarian state).

    In contrast, South Korea handled the problem better, without such aggressive restrictions. The same is true for Singapore and Japan. They didn’t shut down public transportation, although they did cancel large gatherings (as we have). The key response — the part that really has been missing in the U. S. — is wide spread testing.

    1. Well you point out the problem yourself, don’t you? They have free universal testing, we have a disjointed and inadequately funded medical system. There’s a huge difference.

      1. Yes, now you got it.

        The point is, making knee-jerk suggestions like shutting down the freeways is fine if you are a cadre for the PRC, but pointless as a real remedy in this country (or any other democracy).

    2. It’s also worth noting that, as of yesterday, rental cars were still operational. Useful for those without cars who want to enjoy the mountains, but can’t carpool due to social distancing.

  4. I don’t think you’re going to get your crowdsource transit photos. Most people are staying home. And those that are taking transit, are keeping quiet about it. They don’t want to admit they are being irresponsible.

    1. Look at that nurse, riding the bus to work, carefully using the outstanding hygiene skills that come from years of training. All so that she can save a few lives. So irresponsible.

      1. The CDC says sick people should: “Avoid public transportation: Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.”

        “Ah-HA! I got you, Sam! The CDC says “sick” people should avoid it! They don’t say healthy people should avoid it!”

        Um, Gov Inslee said “It is time, right now, for people to assume that they and everyone they meet is infected …” So if you assume that you are infected, and the CDC says don’t take public transit if you are sick, then nobody should be taking public transit.


      2. Using your logic, nurses shouldn’t go into the hospital, since we have to assume they are sick.

    2. I still need to get groceries every two weeks. How am I supposed to do that if the bus is shut down?

      There’s a reason grocery stores and pharmacies stay open. We need to go places as little as possible, but “as little as possible” is still more than zero. The bus running is part of essential services being open, it doesn’t matter if they’re open if people can’t reach them.

      Hopefully there’s room on the bus for me to stay 6 ft from people. Reducing service makes that harder.

      1. You should really consider getting groceries delivered. It’s easy and often doesn’t cost that much or is free if you give them a four hour window (at least at Safeway).

      2. How did people in Wuhan get groceries when transit was shut down? Has anyone heard about people dying of starvation in China?

        And hopefully there’s room on the bus? Just stop. I’m not going to allow people to keep spreading this crap in my comment section. The buses are empty, even after the trip reductions.

        To quote prank call legend Junkyard Willie … Don’t be talkin’ trash.

      3. “How did people in Wuhan get groceries when transit was shut down?”

        I don’t know, Sam, you tell me, you’re the one suggesting we follow suit. Maybe they don’t have housing farther than walking distance from groceries.

        “The buses are empty, even after the trip reductions.”

        Great, then I should be able to maintain a safe 6 ft from people when I go to on a grocery trip. Thanks for reassuring me that it’s fine to take transit for my rare, necessary trips!

  5. “It’s beginning to look a lot like curfew’

    Citation needed. The mayor and governor still seem unwilling to pass shelter in place orders. What makes STB think a curfew is happening any time soon?

      1. Many people have pointed out that this stay at home order falls significantly short of a shelter in place order. Inslee is still spitballing the issue and the restrictions.

      2. How does it fall short of the shelter-in-place orders actually in force in other states?

        Plus, I really like the name Inslee gave it.

      3. Upon further research, I do appear to be in error. The term shelter in place has been used to mean different things in different locations, and I was caught in the confusion that created. Washington state does appear to be under the same restrictions as San Francisco and many surrounding counties, although I have ad.ittedly not looked at the actual orders side by side.

        Apologies. Mea culpa.

  6. I have been on the 249, B, 545, and Link in recent days. It was easy to avoid other people. No more than 4 people per bus or train car, and usually less than that.

  7. Need some help calculating what’s responsible this morning. Since crisis onset, have been only passenger in my own car. Despite taking some non-COVID prescribed medication that leaves me a little dizzy. Law could call it “Buzzed Driving”, couldn’t they?

    Several miles to groceries- described yesterday how professionally Olympia Food Co-op is regulating store entry, and product information. Not only could I walk to at least one store, but exercise could prolong my life and health, even if the rain comes back.

    Problem these last couple days has been number of people already on sidewalks and paths. Yesterday afternoon found me an exercise-and-morale God-send: a nature-preserve fifteen minutes from home with a parking lot. Too bad I wasn’t the only one there. Anybody got “stats” on how far the wind can carry live pathogens?

    By instinct – which Nature by her own experience may be strongly advising us to obey right now- if I had to travel any distance beyond drive-ability, a lightly-patronized bus would “feel” like the right choice. By Social Spacing, beats cabs, Uber, and Lyfft all hollow.

    Now. Zero [OT] this morning shows me our country’s politics definitely have a place in this discussion – including Sam’s favorable mention of another country with the size and inclination to class possibly as an existential enemy of the United States.

    At the very time that own Federal Government is coming up on its second four years under the control of the party that lost the Federal election of 2016. Which among other murdering dictatorships it likes, shares the People’s Republic of China’s insistence that the truth is whatever the Government says it is at any given and rapidly-changing moment.

    And whose own performance against our pandemic at every governmental level in a very deep sense loses it any entitlement to have its any stricture obeyed. Federal Government wants my obedience? Gimme Coherent Federal Policy One!

    And Governor? Mayor? Police Chief? (fill in your names): I’m literally dying to give you the exact intimate personal information the effort most desperately needs. Got my quarantine-car’s keys in my hand. Where do I report to give you my…TEST?

    My vote? ‘Way too early to even guess either date or candidates for what’s supposed to be this fall’s Election. This morning, will be surprised if it happens this year. But thanks to the ‘net, can watch what my government does, to be compared with what it says.

    And thanks to Seattle Transit Blog for the chance to publicly discuss the results with people I respect who know public transit. Itself my own metric for competence to govern at all.

    Mark Dublin

  8. A couple of related points that have become growing pet peeves of mine….

    1. This “essential” and “nonessential” jobs terminology that keeps getting batted around without any clear definitions or guidelines as to what constitutes either classification. Who exactly is making these determinations? The government officials like the states’ governors and their own Covid-19 virus task forces? The public and private sector industries themselves? There are so many gray areas because of the interconnectedness of everything we do for employment and daily functioning.

    Here’s one little example that came up recently for me personally. How does a charity organization like Meals on Wheels continue to operate during this crisis? They obviously are dealing with a virus vulnerable population on a daily basis. But without the organization’s daily services, which rely heavily upon a small army of volunteers, tens of thousands of seniors living in isolation are left to fend for themselves or go hungry. So what “jobs” does this charity group classify as nonessential (other than some of the overhead support functions like finance and accounting, IT, etc.) and does the organization itself make that determination? If I’m one of those volunteers preparing and/or delivering meals to seniors dependent on the program, do I still go to my “job”?

    2. The continued references to grocery stores as if they operate in some sort of magical world of isolation. Retail grocers are the end of the line in our food supply chain and there are many steps that take place in order to get that box of pasta on to your local Safeway shelf. These steps involve hundreds of thousands of workers across the country doing their part in that chain. One could certainly argue that the employees doing these jobs, whether it be harvesting crops, working in a food processing plant, driving a fork lift in a wholesale warehouse, driving a trailer of goods to a retail warehouse, working at a cardboard box supplier, etc., are all providing “essential” services to keep the food supply chain intact.

    The bottom line is that there are way more employee positions that are critical to keeping things running than just those found in your local grocery store. And all of these employees deserve our thanks for allowing us others who are fortunate enough to, firstly, still be employed, and secondly, shelter in place and work from our homes. They need to have a way to get to their jobs and for some of them that involves using transit.

  9. And speaking of which before I forget again….begging for somebody to tell me why any transit system in the Universe would use a FOURTEEN MINUTE HEADWAY?!

    Especially on a rail system whose busy vehicle-and-pedestrian level crossings make ten-minute rush hour arrival times a sweet fantasy.

    Could get real conspiratorial here. Is this the number of minutes it takes to get a pizza baked by a Manhattan child-molester up the cellar stairs so its proceeds can help liberals make a certain White House renter lose the next Election worse than he did the last one?

    Or is this text of an RCW permitting Sound Transit to have the courts double the $124 penalty for a wrong “tap-off” if card contacts reader fourteen times?

    Luckily, think I’ve got the answer:

    In the blessed culture that the name “Rythm Pacheco” comes from, “fourteen” is only polite answer to query about weight of either a passenger or their luggage. Anywhere in the Latin transit world, whole topic is really Rood!

    Am I close?

    Mark Dublin

  10. If Metro is running a reduced schedule, where do they publish the reduced schedule?

    They have a page for it on their website

    With a link to “Is my trip affected?” Following that link doesn’t really tell you. It tells you a few routes are cancelled and tells you that most routes have fewer trips and/or reduced hours of operation. Then it gives “Get latest trip information” citing Trip Planner… followed by telling us that online planning tools are inaccurate.

    1. I did not attempt to ride the bus today. But I am taking the fact that OneBusAway is showing no trips on the 47 or 125 as a sign that it’s mostly accurate.

      Also, FWIW, I did take a stroll in my neighborhood earlier this afternoon and passed by a couple of buses. I didn’t ride them, but I did pull out OneBusAway and, sure enough, the app showed a bus right where my eyes did.

  11. I have no idea how this Coronovirus situation will play out. I take the bus 4 days a week. Even after the outbreak. I have noticed different changes in rider habits. Some better and some worse. Most have been better, in my opinion. That does not necessarily make it safer or healthier. I saw 3 people helping a person with a crutch get in the rear door, so she would not have to go through the front. It helped the driver, but may mot have been healthy for her. All 3 were trying to be team players. I see people staying 6 feet away from each other at stops and then crossing each other on the bus within inches. You cannot fix that. The biggest thing I am noticing is an improvement in care/ courtesy on the buses that I have not seen in a while. It may not be actually helping healthwise. But because people are scared, they are trying harder to get along. I have actually got some phone numbers of people at my stops to see how they will deal with cuts if they get bigger. Maybe we will Uber together. But doing that gets people to work but makes each one of us more at risk. Like I said before, people getting along better, but not healthier. I am trying to stay at home. I know they can not. There is no correct way to fix this. Many commentors will criticize but have no actual solutions. When I get the chance to stay at home, I will, but that does not help others on Lake City Way. Just me.

  12. NYC reduces transit ($) after subway ridership fell 87%, bus ridership 70%, LIRR 76%, Metro-North 94%, New Jersey Transit 88% .

    Subways B, W, and Z are suspended. Express subways 4, 5, 6, 7, J, and D are partly or fully local. Buses are reduced 25%, LIRR 35%, Metro-North 50%. DeCamp commuter buses are suspended.

    MTA local buses have rear-door boarding and free fares. Express buses still have fares and front-door boarding but nobody sits in the front.

    A rider advocate says, ““Public transit right now is the linchpin of public health. The majority of our key categories of essential workers go to work on our subways and buses.”

  13. The housing crisis and coronavirus.

    “the public health crisis posed by the coronavirus and housing affordability crisis that existed before coronavirus aren’t actually separate crises at all — they are inextricably linked to one another… In a lot of high-cost neighborhoods, particularly in immigrant neighborhoods, people are living in tight quarters with a bunch of roommates or extended family. So, for a lot of people the public health recommendations are going to be impossible because of their housing conditions.”

    “Could you talk about the geographical dimension of the housing affordability issue?”

    “It’s universal. We don’t usually think of places like Cleveland and Detroit as being expensive cities, but those cities have very high poverty rates. So, Detroit and Cleveland have basically the same proportion of people who are cost burdened as New York and San Francisco.”

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