Beginning this weekend, Sound Transit and King County Metro are once again reducing service to meet demand for essential travel with fewer available drivers. They join several suburban agencies who have done their own second-route cuts, even as federal relief aid is expected to land here.
For Sound Transit, this means another frequency cut for Link, which will now run every 30 minutes all week beginning Monday, April 20. ST will have four-car trains on all Link trips. Several ST Express routes operated by Metro will also see new cuts to the number of trips. Ridership for Sound Transit has down 87 percent systemwide, while Metro is reporting a 70 percent decrease.
Sound Transit is also advising riders to only use transit services for essential trips, and to wear facial coverings. King County Metro has also instructed its security officers to enforce physical separation on buses where possible, and remove riders who are jeopardizing the safety of those on board.
Beginning on Monday, Sound Transit and Pierce Transit will be among the agencies to cut back their service further in response to low ridership, staffing shortages, and cost-saving measures. King County Metro is bucking the trend by restoring some of its service that was cut in the initial reductions last week, primarily trips for essential trips.
This rundown of affected services will be updated throughout the week as other announcements come in. All agencies in the ORCA system have stopped collecting fares except for Washington State Ferries, and most are requiring riders to use the rear door(s) if they are able to.
On Thursday, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced their appropriations for $25 billion in national transit relief funding from the CARES Act, which was passed by Congress a week ago. The relief package includes $521 million in funding for transit agencies in the Seattle area, as well as an additional $133 million for other agencies and cities in Washington state. The relief funds are meant to primarily cover operating costs, especially as agencies have suspended their fare collection and are anticipating a significant drop in sales tax revenue.
The FTA has also announced that all operating expenses incurred beginning on January 20, 2020, are eligible for relief funds or support. These funds will be available to any urban or rural agency that applies directly to the FTA for aid. The share in the current appropriation will be distributed without the need for local matching funds under the normal formula programs (5307 for urbanized areas and 5311 for rural areas).
The people behind Transit, one of the more popular trip planning apps, have put together an estimate on how Covid-19 has affected every transit agency they track. Here are the figures for the Puget Sound.
The company says that the percentage declines are approximated based on previous years’ app usage, since they don’t have actual ridership data. Since these are all percentage declines against “normal”, you don’t see the typical weekend drop-offs. Still, some trends are obvious, such as the probably-shoulda-been-canceled Sounders home game on March 1.
In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, several transit agencies in the Puget Sound region have announced that they are switching to fare-free operations and some are also cutting service. As we’ve been tracking on our updated coronavirus dashboard, there are a lot of changes ahead as the situation evolves.
The general consensus is that reducing most contact between bus drivers and riders can be done with rear door boarding and withholding fare collection until conditions return to normal. Riders needing ramp or ADA access are allowed to use the front doors if needed.
As of writing (on Thursday night), seven transit agencies have announced fare collection suspensions: King County Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, Skagit Transit, and Whatcom Transportation Authority. These fare suspensions apply to all services, including trains, ferries, and paratransit, and will take effect at various times, the latest so far being Tuesday, March 24.
As you may have heard, there is an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 novel coronavirus, a new strain of virus that is able to be transmitted from person to person. Several major employers have activated work-from-home policies and several large events have been cancelled and postponed.
For those who need to still get around, the transit agencies of the Puget Sound region have been responding to COVID-19 with new cleaning strategies, which we will summarize and update below.
In general, most agencies are encouraging riders to do the following:
Avoid public places and mass gatherings when sick
Avoid public places if at a high risk of infection (pregnant persons, over age 60, having an underlying health condition, having a weakened immune system)
Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing
Wash hands frequently for 20 seconds
Avoid touching your face
Maintain a “social distance” of 6 feet between strangers
Telecommute if possible or avoid unnecessary trips