Published May 20, 2020 by A.J. Mistretta
METRO is working to relaunch some of its transit services that were temporarily halted during the coronavirus shutdown. But the agency says doing so safely, in a manner that protects both its employees and riders, is paramount.
METRO Chair Carrin Patman provided an update on the transit agency’s operations on May 20 as part of the Partnership’s COVID-19 Business Forum series.
Patman said METRO ridership is down about 60% from its normal operations, though she expects that will grow as more companies recall employees to the workplace. The agency has begun adding buses on its most traveled routes, including those servicing the Texas Medical Center, and restarted some of its park-and-ride services.
METRO has taken several steps to alleviate pressure on riders while maintaining social distancing and sanitation protocols in its vehicles and facilities. The agency has discontinued fares for the time being, both to help riders who may be struggling financially and as a safety protocol. Patman said high-touch areas such as handles and poles on rail cars and buses, as well as bus shelters and rail platforms, are being cleaned at regular intervals throughout the day. The agency has instituted rear boarding on its buses and designated empty seats with signage to maintain social distancing.
It’s also providing riders and employees with face masks and taking employees’ temperature when they arrive for work.
Patman said Houston area employers can help the agency’s safety efforts by providing their employees with cloth masks for use in transit and throughout the day. She’s also encouraging local companies to consider staggered work schedules to help ease congestion on buses and rail.
Ridership among essential employees was consistent even at the height of local stay-home orders, underlining the critical nature of public transit, Patman said. “We are an important part of the community and we need transit to keep our economy going,” she said. “While we don’t quite know when the curve will be flattened enough to get back to normal, our main priority right now is to bring service back so everyone who needs to can get to work.”
Patman said the pandemic is delaying the agency’s METRONext initiative, funded by a bond measure approved by voters last year. But she said the projects included in the plan will move forward as time and funding permit.