The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) released preliminary details of its covid-19 pandemic recovery plan, outlining a flexible blueprint for ramping up service, while protecting customers and employees, as the region prepares for recovery from the public health crisis. The recovery strategy will be discussed at WMATA’s meeting on May 14.
WMATA’s plan is closely aligned with steps planned by local governments and employers, including the federal government. Its success depends on a sustained downward trajectory in infections and a gradual ramp-up in service and ridership. The phases of the plan coincide with the relaxing of stay-at-home policies, return to workplaces, and the widespread availability of testing, treatment and a vaccine, among other variables.
Protecting Customers and Employees
WMATA’s priority continues to be protecting the health and safety of its customers and employees while providing transportation for essential trips throughout the region. Efforts to reduce exposure to the virus will continue until treatments and/or a vaccine are developed to lessen the public health risk. WMATA’s Pandemic Task Force is monitoring infection and ridership trends as well as actions by local governments and employers and will aim to increase service ahead of demand to allow for adequate social distancing. Modified work schedules and practices for employees will continue for the foreseeable future, with adjustments possible, to limit risk to employees.
Phases of recovery
WMATA has been in a “crisis response” posture since moving into stage 3 of its Pandemic Response Plan on March 13. The next phase of Metro’s pandemic response includes:
- Stabilization: As stay-at-home orders are expected to be lifted this summer, WMATA will continue to ask customers to use the system only for essential trips, and to protect themselves and others through hand hygiene and by wearing face masks or coverings when using the transit system.
- Managed re-entry: As regional businesses and governments scale back teleworking and schools reopen, WMATA will aim to ramp up service ahead of demand to allow for proper social distancing for those who need to travel. In this phase, all Metrorail stations currently closed as part of the covid-19 response will reopen. All Metrobus routes will operate, with some service limitations such as reduced intervals between bus departures. The tentative managed re-entry period is this fall when schools reopen.
- Recovery: When a treatment and /or vaccine is widely available, WMATA will continue to ramp up service to meet ridership demand as economic activity increases. The system will return to post-pandemic hours of service.
- Resilience: Post-pandemic, the agency will analyze the response to COVID-19 to make the system safer and more resilient to future pandemics.
Summer track work
During the stabilization period this summer, WMATA will take advantage of low ridership to reduce impacts to customers from critical state of good repair construction projects. Its recovery plan includes targeted week-long shutdowns of three to five stations at a time for track maintenance and upgrades. Bus bridges will be provided in the shutdown zones, and headways throughout the rest of the system will not be affected. Track work will be announced weeks in advance. The first track work shutdown is currently targeted for June at L'Enfant Plaza, Waterfront, and Navy Yard stations.