Cap Metro Begins Modified Transit Schedule March 18
New boarding and cleaning protocols also announced
By Austin Sanders,
5:05PM, Tue. Mar. 17, 2020
Capital Metro, Austin’s public transit service, will operate on a modified schedule starting Wednesday, March 18, in the latest governmental agency to take precautions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus into Austin-Travis County.
At an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors on Tuesday morning, a resolution was approved unanimously granting broad power to the transit agency’s President and CEO Randy Clarke in responding to the threat of the virus, which causes COVID-19.
The first big change: shifting to essentially provide Sunday-level service seven days. Most local routes and the popular Metro Rapid buses will operate with less frequency; the MetroRail Red Line will operate its usual Monday-Friday day schedule, but suspend late-night Friday service and all Saturday service; the recently implemented on-demand Pickup service, available in some neighborhoods that saw service reductions during Cap Remap, will operate from 10am-6pm. For detailed route information, visit www.capmetro.org/schedmap.
All fleet vehicles are cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectant at the end of each service day. Currently, that work is performed by staff through the manual scrubbing of commonly touched surfaces, but the agency has ordered equipment that will allow staff to spray down vehicles.
Additionally, customers should begin boarding buses through the rear door – unless they are paying cash. Riders swiping bus passes or scanning their phones can do so using the rear scanners; customers paying with cash should use the front entrance. The change in boarding procedure serves the same purpose as the reduction in service – ensuring passengers keep proper social distance from each other, and from bus operators, who will continue to serve the city as an essential service.
Although people are still riding transit – especially those who don't have access to other transportation options – Cap Metro Chief Operating Officer Dottie Watkins told the Board of Directors that the agency had seen a 40% drop in ridership on Monday. This follows a historic run of ridership gains over the past 16 months, thanks largely in part to a surge in “choice riders” – those who choose to take transit over commuting to work in their cars. Now that health officials are recommending the avoidance of mass transit if possible, those choice riders are staying home or using their personal vehicles.
Watkins also suggested that staff at Cap Metro was planning to deal with fallout from the spread of coronavirus for a long period of time. “All of our planning has been under the assumption that we are running a marathon and not a sprint,” she told the Board. “We want to make sure that what we do, we’re able to maintain on a long-term basis, if necessary.”
Officials said there are not currently plans to further reduce service, but as is the case with every other organization or business navigating a world gripped by pandemic – the situation is fluid. Clarke has the authority to modify service and fares as needed, and per the resolution, “the authority to take other action in accordance with guidance and instructions from the national, state and local authorities and/or agencies,” if other action is needed.