Public transit in the KW region has been one of many services that has been heavily affected by COVID-19.
With businesses increasing sanitation practices, the Grand River Transit (GRT), too, has implemented cleaning and disinfecting practices on all transit vehicles.
Andrew Portwine, a Transit Scheduler with the GRT, says, “Our buses have also been undergoing more rigorous cleaning during the over night hours so they are ready for the next day of service. Also, most of our office staff have been working from home since March 18th to reduce the number of people in the office and the number of people our operators come in contact with when starting their shifts.”
According to an April 21st update on their website on Cleaning and Disinfecting, these practices include the following:
- Significantly increasing cleaning and sanitizing of frequently contacted surfaces in the buses and trains
- Application of anti-microbial treatments on trains and buses
- Additional cleaning of frequently-contacted surfaces at transit stations
- Providing operators with hand sanitizing wipes, spray sanitizer and paper towels
Some WCI students who frequently use public transit commented on these cleaning practices. Scott A, a fifth year student said, “To be completely honest with you, I think that prior to COVID-19, buses were not the cleanest. I’ve always depended on public transportation to get to work and school. Recently I’ve noticed a drastic change in sanitation and how clean buses are. Hats off to the people at Grand River Transit.”
James R, a grade 12 student who has been using public transportation for over four years also came to the conclusion that buses are much cleaner than before. He shared, “For the last several years that I’ve been using the GRT buses, I can appreciate the increased sanitation as well as the amount of effort that is made to keep all of us safe.”
GRT’s efforts are not only in place for passengers but are an effort to protect their transit operators. A list has been published on Protecting Operators under the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) section on the GRT website where sanitation, physical distancing, safety signs, security measures and rear door boarding have been implemented to create the most efficient and safest environment for their operators.
Social and physical distancing have been the top priorities that health officials have been promoting. In tight spaces such as a bus, physical distancing on the GRT’s vehicles ensures safety for yourself as well as the people around you. To provide the highest quality of service for the health and safety of the public, GRT has put limits on the number of passengers allowed to ride per vehicle. The current maximum capacity of riders is twenty.
An article that was published by CTV Kitchener’s Matthew Ethier on April 21, 2020 stated that “The union representing Grand River Transit employees is calling on the region to reduce the passenger limit on buses from twenty to ten.”
The dispute about whether or not to decrease the number of riders continues. Meanwhile, bus drivers are on alert on behalf of the safety of all riders. When it begins to look like physical distancing cannot be maintained/ achieved, other buses will be sent as an alternative to pickup missed riders. (If you are ever in this situation, call GRT customer service 519-585-7555.)
Clark L, a grade 12 student who is long time GRT bus pass holder said, “Personally I have not been in the situation where I had to call another bus to pick me up because I’ve seen less people use the buses since COVID. The times I’ve had to use the bus, only about five people were actually on it.”
When asked how long public transit would continue to impose limits in our region, Portwine said, “I suspect that once the province begins opening more businesses, we will see more people wanting to use transit, which means we will have to add more service to ensure we aren’t filling buses to capacity in the first few weeks after reopening.”
This graph by TransitApp displays the ridership rates in some parts of North America. From March 3, 2020 to May 5th, 2020 there has been an approximate decrease in ridership by 70-80%.
Currently the percentage of ridership for the Kitchener/ Waterloo region is unknown but according to Portwine there has been a significant decrease in riders. He says, “We made some cut backs to our services a few weeks ago and a further reduction will take place on May 18. These reductions have primarily affected the bus network, but LRT reductions are in place as well.”
Going forward, what public transit post-pandemic will look like may be up in the air. Whether or not it will return to normal or most likely exist with some limitations, COVID has definitely impacted the GRT and its riders.
When asked what public transit might look like post-pandemic in the Kitchener/ Waterloo region, Portwine said, “In the immediate months, I think we may get back to similar levels of use as before COVID, but in the longer term, I believe this pandemic has shown that many businesses can function with many of their employees working from home. After some policy changes and ironing out wrinkles, I believe more people will work from home in the coming years, which will reflect on less transit use. From an internal perspective, I believe that our cleaning practices and driver safety practices will remain closer to they way the are now (extra cleaning, higher use of hand sanitizer and wipes by drivers) as it just makes sense to keep many of these things in place moving forward.”
High schools, universities and colleges may be open in September, and many post-secondary and secondary students rely on public transportation.
Shoaeb A, a first year Conestoga College student said, “I can’t count the amount of times I have used the GRT buses to get to school and back. A lot of students rely on it for transportation. I hope things will clear up before September.”
Portwine says, “We are currently working on schedules for the summer service period (June 22 to Labour Day) based on the information we know at this time from the provincial government. September to December schedules will have to be considered in the future as more announcements from the provincial government are brought forward. There is also talk that universities and colleges could delay opening or have some virtual classes etc. I’m guessing that they are in the same place we are and just waiting on the province to sort out timelines for a safe return.”
Considering most establishments around the world are most likely taking a financial decrease, the GRT is likely experiencing the same, especially since their service is free until May 31st. A lot of people are reliant on free transportation, and there has not been any announcement yet regarding an extension to the free fares.
What the future holds for the GRT will be determined gradually. Regardless of what it might look like, you can count on the staff at Grand River Transit to continue to provide safe travel for its riders.
For more information regarding COVID-19 and using public transit with the current situation, visit the GRT website.