Health & Safety Take The Front Seat With Public Transportation During The Pandemic
Is public transportation truly safe during a pandemic?
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At the beginning of 2020, Charlotte — like so many cities across the country — was busy with people traveling and going places whether it was just to a job around a corner or to the airport to leave the country.
Charlotte was on the MOVE with people utilizing all forms of transportation. But as the COVID-19 wave hit the country things such as public transportation seemed taboo. But with eyes on this means of transport, a question comes to mind — is it actually cleaner than before?
This is a question that came across my mind as my car broke down recently. How can I get around in a reliable and safe manner?
As I rode in a car-share service that displayed a laminated personally-made sign making sure all passengers know to wear their masks inside the vehicle, I start to have questions.
Just wearing a mask while I am inside this shared space is not going to protect me. Is the driver wearing a mask even when I am not in the vehicle? How are they cleaning their car and how often?
Answers I and many others might never receive as people go from one shared space to the next. But what about consistent travel options like the public transportation of the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS).
Many citizens of the Queen City rely on CATS for their everyday needs, but how safe is their commute now?
“Prior to the impact of COVID, CATS transported over 75,000 weekday trips,” CATS’ Public and Community Relations Specialist Ajonelle Poole said. “Not unexpected, we experienced a decline in ridership during the stay-at-home orders and as the pandemic accelerated. However, we are beginning to trend upwards again.”
The public transportation service has experienced confidence as the number of riders continue to increase. A big part of this comes from the changes that have been made to ensure riders feel protected from germs during any form of every day commute.
A Change Here & A Change There
Before COVID, CATS was already pretty clean, some would say, especially compared to other transportation services across the country. Pre-corona all CATS vehicles as well as facilities were cleaned on a daily or nightly basis, Poole stated.
But now with health at the forefront, or the front seat, of peoples’ minds – multiple changes have been made to go that extra mile.
CATS implemented a modified schedule in March for bus and light rail service and implemented stringent cleaning protocols. Two months later, CATS introduced mid-trip cleanings at the transit center and end-of-line light rail stops.
During the cleanings, passengers are asked to step off the vehicle while a quick but thorough cleaning takes place. During the cleaning process, hospital grade solutions are used with electromagnetic sprayers. This process is utilized on all vehicles and surfaces during mid-trip and nightly cleanings.
Something about the term hospital-grade makes things sound safer already. Or is it just me?
“Social distancing measures are encouraged on bus and light rail vehicles. Six foot social distancing markers on bus floor and seats are blocked off. Recently, we began the process of installing plexiglass operator barriers on all STS (special transportation services) vehicles and buses,” Poole said.
CATS also requests that every rider wear a mask aboard services.
“Free face masks are available to all community members, not just riders and can be picked up at a transit center or during a pop-up event,” she said.
Throughout the pandemic Poole says that the safety of customers, operators and workers is their primary concern.
Since the beginning of the pandemic CATS has had a total of 39 employees that they are aware of who have contracted COVID. But local health officials have not reported any clusters or spread that has been linked to any form of transportation within Mecklenburg County.
What Does All This Mean?
Overall, CATS specifically could be considered objectively cleaner and safer from viral spread than your local grocery store. But even more than that, with visual safety measures in place, you will not have questions bouncing around in your mind such as my initial thoughts when riding in a car-share.
The comfort of the mind goes a-looooooongggg way when it comes to this pandemic.
As we move through this pandemic CATS has pledged to continue to evaluate service and make adjustments as necessary.
“Throughout the current health crisis, public transit has remained an essential service for our community’s front-line workers. CATS’ commitment to providing reliable service has not stopped,” Poole said.
Author: Brittney Melton