Managing Mass Transit Systems in the Post-COVID World
Updated: Sep 5
If you’re in the business of managing our public transit facilities- subways, buses, trains, light rail systems, et al- you know only too well how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your operations.
As the Associated Press recently reported, “Mass transit systems around the world have taken unprecedented—and expensive—steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus.”
From a management point of view, the impact this pandemic is having on ridership is serious. In New York, for instance, the number of people travelling on the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) is down by 75%. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), for its part, reports an overall decline in ridership of 82%. Likewise, Washington DC’s WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) says that rail ridership is down 90%, and bus ridership by 65%. Even the UK’s much-praised TfL (Transport for London) has seen the number of people travelling by bus down 76%, while the Tube has experienced an 88% decline!
The question is: What can you, as managers, do, right now, to diminish the impact of viral scourge ̶ especially given the fact that public transportation systems are regarded as one of the highest-risk environments for spreading the coronavirus?
Getting Down to Specifics with Your Staff
Well, you can begin by doing more than your customary, daily wipe downs of vehicles and buildings. Some transit managers now have these cleanings conducted twice a day; some have even opted for three times a day.
A small number of transit agencies- generally those in big cities with very high ridership numbers ̶ are carrying out these deep-cleaning procedures once every four hours. Needless to say, only well-funded agencies with sufficient staff are able to undertake such regimens.
So, here are some basic pointers for those of your staff engaged in these cleaning processes.
Protecting Your Passengers
Transit vehicles all have their particular ‘high-touch’ points- areas which passengers touch with the greatest frequency- and these should be top of every list for your cleaning personnel. They include:
How to Protect Your Drivers
Obviously, your drivers are an essential part of your workforce and have to be protected as effectively as possible. As such, the cleaning crew should pay particular attention to these items in a driver’s areas:
Driver’s Door Latch
Many of the high-touch areas found on trains are similar to those found on buses. As such, your cleaning crews should be sure to add such items as:
Toilets: Wash basins, door handles, towel dispensers, mirrors, and soap dispensers.
Dining/Bar Cars: Bar, table tops, seats, serving trays, menus, cutlery, glasses and cups.
Storage Areas: Overhead baggage compartments and back-of-seat receptacles.
Seats: Headrests, arm rests, pull-down tables, drink holders, wi-fi ports and light switches.
Obviously, these lists only include a portion of all the areas which need to be cleaned and sanitized as often as practically possible. And things can get a little more complicated if you are one of those transit systems that offers transcontinental railroad services which might include such amenities as sleeping berths, showers and bathrooms, dining carriages, observation cars, and, these days, on-train gyms/workout areas. They all have their special requirements.
Bus and Train Stations
Bus and train stations are in themselves ‘hot spots’ since they are designed to process large numbers of passengers, and often require them to congregate in designated areas ̶ waiting rooms, boarding areas, ticket collection points, platform entry sections, and so forth. Of course, a collection of passengers + a confined space = a greater likelihood of viral spread.
However, in addition to sanitizing ticket dispensers and booths, seats/benches, garbage cans, turnstiles, touch-sensitive display screens, ATMs, and luggage trolleys, your transit staff can help to reduce such threats by doing the following:
• Wiping down desks, telephones, information booths and other frequently touched
surfaces as often as possible; at a minimum the beginning and end of each shift.
• Requiring station staff to minimize contact with passengers- except in emergency
circumstances- by remaining in booths or kiosks as much as is practical.
• Having cleaning crews visit these areas as frequently as possible and cleaning often
touched surfaces such as:
Fare collection touchscreens and buttons
Food/drink vending machines
I should also mention here that many transit systems are helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the application of new, and more efficient, cleaning protocols. The aforementioned AP article reports that transit agencies around the world are now engaged in new approaches to sanitizing their facilities:
have tried using ozone gas as a disinfectant. The public transit system in Dallas
tested a “dry fogging” system, and Hong Kong used a robot that sprays a
hydrogen peroxide solution.”
Protecting Your Passengers from Coronavirus
Innovation is (nearly) always a good thing, but many of your transit agency colleagues are also (rightfully) depending on tried-and-true methods of cleaning and sanitizing their vehicles and buildings, which include waiting rooms, ticketing areas, food retail spots, and so forth. ‘Tried-and-true’ usually means the use of some form of disinfectant ̶ and there are many, many effective products in the marketplace.
But what about your passengers? They are obviously a key part of any coronavirus-prevention equation, and you need to find a way to make travel safe again for them. There may be no magic bullet that is capable of eradicating this virus, but observing some basic rules could help your riders to more safely navigate this new COVID-19 world. You could make sure that all your customers do the following:
Observe social distancing rules at all times.
Wear a mask for the entirety of their trip.
Restrict their travel plans to the greatest extent possible, e.g. by working remotely.
Remember to adhere to basic hygiene rules, such as washing hands with soap and water, using hand sanitizers, carrying medicated wipes with them wherever they go (remind them that wipes are great for wiping down credit cards, ATM slots and buttons, gas pumps, and so on).
What Cleaner Should You Use?
There are many cleaning agents on the market, but few that effectively get rid of viruses, bacteria, insects, fungi and mildew. On shelves for over 50 years, Sterifab is an EPA-approved virucide that is entirely odorless and non-residual. Plus, just 15 minutes after application, your staff and passengers can safely hop on the bus, car, plane or train. You can read more in BusRide Magazine and MassTransit about why Sterifab has been a go-to cleaner in the transportation industry for years.
Further Reading about Using Sterifab
To learn more about cleaning in the time of COVID-19, disinfectants, how to use them, and where, here is a list of related articles to check out:
For the record, Sterifab® is the #1 disinfectant and insecticide used by major companies, municipalities, transit authorities, Department of Defense, small businesses and homeowners across the U.S.A.