Buses get disinfectant spray, wipedowns as riders stay home

People are heeding recommendations to limit exposure to one another, and transit agencies see it.

The scene looks like so many from viral outbreak movies: a person in a white mask and protective suit spraying a substance into the air.

The only thing missing from the Community Transit video is audio of television news anchors talking about a disease sweeping the nation.

Except it’s as real as it gets, and it’s necessary to help stem the tide of the viral respiratory disease.

Thousands of people board a bus, hop in a vanpool, sail on a ferry or take a train to work across Snohomish County every day, and the new coronavirus disease COVID-19 has prompted commuters and transit agencies to change their habits.

“Overall, like our regional transportation partners, we have continued to see a decline in ridership over the past few days,” Community Transit spokeswoman Nashika Stanbro said.

Anyone who drove lately probably noticed fewer vehicles on the roads. The steady stream of brake lights heading north on I-5 every afternoon turned into a trickle, with traffic clipping along like it was those often spoken of golden days when people could make a trip from Marysville to Seattle in 45 minutes.

It seems people are staying home, heeding “social distancing” advice from health experts.

Community Transit buses are roomier because of it.

In 2018, Community Transit had more than 10.6 million boardings on a bus, DART paratransit or with vanpool. As of Wednesday, total boardings in the agency were down 34% compared to an average Wednesday.

The change was more dramatic for commuter boardings (the 400 and 800 routes into Seattle), which plummeted 57%. Sound Transit, which operates some buses from Snohomish County, dropped 47%. Local Community Transit boardings, the 100 and 200 series, fell 22%.

Everett Transit, which provides public transportation within city limits, saw a minimal decline in its fixed routes, Everett transportation services and transit director Tom Hingson said.

“I think the thing to remember is it would be safe to say most or at least a large percentage of Everett Transit riders only rely on Everett Transit to commute,” he said.

Everett’s paratransit ridership saw a major dip of about 29%, which Hingson attributed to the Carl Gipson Senior Center and the Full Life program closing. People with health conditions and those over 60 years are at greater risk of getting sick from the disease COVID-19 as well.

Every night, crews disinfect the fleets for both agencies. Once Community Transit’s 320 buses and Everett Transit’s 42 fixed-route and 28 paratransit buses are all out of service, someone walks in and sprays them with Virex II 256, which is on a list by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Community Transit’s cleaning and disinfecting process was updated March 5. It includes weekly bus cleanings with Lysol multi-surface cleaner on the interior doors and windows, handrails, mirrors and non-fabric parts of seats. Drivers have access to disinfecting wipes to clean their areas, including the fare box and steering wheel, and the wipes may be issued to drivers, Stanbro said.

A five-person maintenance crew with Everett Transit takes care of its fleet, including cleaning and fueling. Instead of incurring additional time for disinfecting, the workers focus more on the inside than the general exterior cleanliness. Drivers have disinfectant cloths for high-touch areas, especially the fare box.

“People should feel OK, feel safe about riding the buses, just take their own personal protection,” Hingson said.

Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries also increased cleaning of their fleets.

On Sound Transit light rail and Sounder trains, fare enforcement effectively was suspended as inspectors won’t ask for proof of payment. Its light rail cars are hit with a disinfectant spray and King County Metro Transit staff sanitize handrails and other “touch points.” Amtrak is responsible for the Sounder trains and cleans them and stations several times a day and sometimes hourly.

Crews aboard Washington State Ferries, which moves millions of people every years, wipe tables and seats, scrub bathroom sinks and faucets, and clean surfaces with a disinfectant cleanser before each departure. Drive-on passengers are encouraged to stay in their vehicle to avoid exposure in the galley, and other passengers are recommended to keep 6 feet apart.

Both Community and Everett agencies held service steady. One benefit of fewer riders is that it’s easier for people to keep 6 feet apart from one another to avoid exposure, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For however thorough the nightly disinfecting is, it’s still important for people to cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching their face, and to properly wash their hands.

“We can clean it all night long, but we can’t control the person who walks on the bus,” Hingson said.

Have a question? Email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

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