SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority’s recent reduction in services has sparked some concerns that some buses and trains are becoming too crowded to practice social distancing and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s been a balancing act,” said UTA spokesperson Carl Arky. “It’s not an exact science, so now if we find out that more people are getting on at this stop at this time, we’ll respond and adjust accordingly as we go.”
Not surprisingly, buses and trains have seen a “significant” drop in riders over the last several weeks as more people stay home. So much so that this week UTA temporarily cut back services, which has lead to fewer options for those who are still using public transportation.
Even with the reduced services, drivers are reporting some of their buses are empty. However, depending on the time and place, it has actually increased the number of people on board.
“I think it’s bringing more crowds around,” said Chris Flandro, a rider who has noticed more people at certain times on TRAX. “People aren’t really big on the 6-feet-apart deal because you have to sit next to people.”
“It’s lead to a few situations that we’ve come across so far where there are more people on the bus or on the train,” said Arky, while stressing that UTA is just a couple of days into reduced services, and it can be difficult to project exactly how riders will respond to changes.
A relative of one UTA bus driver who didn’t want to be identified sent KSL TV a picture of a bus full of people sitting right next to each other. The man expressed his frustration that it appeared more wasn’t being done to limit the number of passengers to prevent the spread of the virus.
The UTA has made several changes to help stop the spread, including thoroughly cleaning buses and trains, distributing masks to drivers, discouraging passengers from using the front entrance of the bus and adding a second yellow line inside the bus to keep riders farther away from the driver’s seat.
“Everything we can possibly think of to do we’re doing to make sure our vehicles are as safe as they can be,” Arky said. “We want to keep that essential service going but we want to do it as safe as we can.”
Everything we can possibly think of to do we’re doing to make sure our vehicles are as safe as they can be.
–Carl Arky, UTA
Arky said UTA has people who are constantly monitoring routes and timing.
“UTA will be responsive, and if we see that there’s more ridership on a particular bus at a particular time, we’ll increase the frequency and provide for more capacity for people so that we can provide for more physical distancing,” he said. “That’s our number one goal is to keep the service running for essential employees, provide essential service and do it as safely as we possibly can.”
We're operating under our reduced schedule. In a nutshell for weekday: Bus is maintaining hours of service on most routes and moving from 15 to 30 min frequency, #UVX is every 15 min, #TRAX is every 30, #FrontRunner is doing only 60 min freq. https://t.co/B14NpyfmDf. #COVID19Utahpic.twitter.com/pG8EW7rX8T— UTA (@RideUTA) April 6, 2020