As we begin to turn the corner during the pandemic with vaccines becoming slowly available, many in the transit industry are now wondering when things will return to “normal.” As ridership starts to return, will it ever get back to pre-pandemic levels? Will the pandemic end up permanently changing the industry going forward? As we approach the one-year anniversary of the lockdown, we know that some things have changed, but there is still quite a lot of uncertainty. What we do know is that, as an industry, we will need to invest in ensuring that your riders trust our public transportation networks. They need to trust that we are prioritizing their health and safety so that they will feel comfortable riding public transportation. We also know, as industry leaders, we need to change the way we look at providing public transit and play a proactive role in rebuilding passenger trust in transit.
Our priority for safety has evolved
The days of packing people onto transit vehicles are likely behind us. To bring passengers back on board now and in the future, riders must feel that they will be safe. While safety has always been a top priority for our industry, protecting passengers now looks very different and this will likely be long-term.
Ensuring vehicles are disinfected and sanitized has become a cornerstone for us at Transdev and likely for other agencies across the country and the world. This consistent, rigorous cleaning to protect passengers and employees will need to continue. Managing employee and passenger interactions also will remain critical. Our passengers need to continue to see face masks, shields, social distancing notices and hand sanitizer on our buses. These serve as constant reminders that they can trust us, and their health and safety are always top-of-mind.
In an effort to support our clients, we provided a toolkit of information for our employees and also offered supporting communication to our passengers and clients. We created an assortment of visuals to support health and safety reminders on our vehicles, at our stops, and across our networks. We anticipate the need for such visuals continuing for the time being.
We have created signage for our buses reminding passengers to socially distance, wear masks while on board, and to follow other health and safety protocols. We have even put decals on the ground at our shelters and stops to encourage proper social distancing while waiting for vehicles. All of these actions serve as visual reminders to proactively communicate that we are prioritizing health and safety on our public transportation systems.
Success ≠ packed bus
Our industry can no longer measure success by how full our buses are. Passenger volume is changing, peak times are flattening, and social distancing is a concern. How we adjust and adapt will show our passengers that we can be agile, focus on their safety, meet their changing needs, and deserve their trust.
The investments in technology that allow transit agencies to provide real-time information to passengers are more important than ever. Knowing when the bus is coming, if it’s busy or if it’s full are now basic expectations for passengers concerned about social distancing. Riders want to feel in control of their commute and weigh all their options. They don’t want to feel they have to compromise their safety to get to their destination on time. Further innovations will only continue to drive passenger trust and help restore ridership.
Many agencies already have impressive systems in place that put passenger safety and concerns around social distancing at the forefront. In Nassau County, for example, an app provides real-time passenger counts to prospective riders. Passengers can choose their preferred bus depending on how crowded the next scheduled buses are. The status is reported to riders as: not crowded (under 25%); some crowding (50% to 75%); and crowded (over 75%). This information allows riders to make the decision that’s right for them. This same information also allows the Nassau operations team to be proactive and dispatch relief buses when needed.
Our industry’s purpose moving forward is the same as it’s always been — to provide safe transportation options for all. Going the extra mile to ensure our passengers feel at ease, are confident, and trust that their health and safety needs are met remain our top priority — before, during, and after this pandemic.