Coronavirus Reopening: Despite Easing of Local COVID-19 Restrictions, Public Transit Ridership Slow to Rebound

4 mins read

Oakland (CBS SF) report updates – most people are still avoiding public transit amidst suffering from more than seven months into COVID-19 pandemic.

Bay Area agencies, including AC Transit, Caltrain, San Francisco Muni, BART, and others, continue to report meager numbers of people who ride in buses or trains, even though officials reported no COVID-19 outbreaks had been linked to land transportations.

One of former BART passengers who live in San Francisco, Ian Doyle, says, “So I’ve been the studies, but it is still just kind of the psychological feeling that I’m just not ready to begin going back to public transit.”

Some commuters point to the fear factor.

One customer waiting for a train at the Lafayette BART station, Chris Reid, says, “This is actually the first time I’ve been back on BART in about six months. I am one of the daily BART passengers before the pandemic.”

San Francisco officials reported that only 22 percent of commuters from the pre-pandemic level use land transits. BART has 13 percent. Caltrain recorded even worse, where only 5 percent of the pre-pandemic level.

Chris Reid says, “I came to the station, and it was virtually empty. So I figured ‘Hey, about as safe as it’s going to get.”

With proper strong ventilation systems on trains and buses, the experts and scientists said public transports are much safer than grocery stores, shopping malls, and indoor dining. In fact, BART reported that their entire car’s air is replaced every seventy seconds.

Dr. George Rutherford, a UCSF epidemiologist, said, “I think as long as you can maintain six feet distance and everybody has masks on, which they are supposed to,” “I like the idea of buses where they can open windows and get some ventilation through it.”

Rutherford is a 67-year-old passenger that rides on the BART station. He said that BART’S new upgraded air filter pilot system would secure the customer’s trust and will boost the commuter’s confidence. Right now, BART uses Merv-8 filters. However, they are now testing Merv-14 filters, which are denser and more effective in trapping airborne elements.

Ben Holland, BART’s manager of Vehicle Systems Engineering, said in his reports, “We are going to a filter that is going to filter 90 percent smaller particles (compared to the Merv-8 filter).”

BART station is also in the process of testing UV lights in one train car. The testing is to kill the COVID-19 virus when it enters the ventilation system.

Holland said, “We are just really excited about being able to deploy such a simple technology that is going to have such a dramatic improvement to the air quality.”

Rutherford said, “Does it increase by 100 percent? No. Increases somewhat and I’m glad they’re doing it. It makes me feel even safer.”

Commuters were hoping that changes could help them to ease the hesitation.

Doyle said, “With those types of upgrades, I’m absolutely way more confident in it.”

The changes will take some time. If BART decides to start changes, they could start to use the Merv-14 filters around next summer. However, UV light installation will take more time, around next fall, since the station has to add the light rods to all 1,000 train cars.

Many commuters are complaining regarding BART trains can be crowded during the morning on certain days. BART officials said that while they don’t have workers to enforce social distancing, they do provide the opportunity for travelers to socially distance themselves by choosing to ride on longer trains during commute hours.

They ask their customers to look for a train that isn’t crowded with people or wait for the next vehicle.

Thomas Lake

Resident tech nerd for the SF Times.