Face coverings key to giving riders’ confidence in public transit   

TCAT riders rank safety measures in survey

The majority of TCAT riders agree with a recently beefed-up state mandate that says that people using public transportation must wear face coverings, a recent survey suggests.

More than 200 people, the majority of whom identified as TCAT riders, responded to an informal online survey TCAT launched in June. The intent of the questionnaire was for TCAT to gauge what safety protocols give riders enough confidence to ride a public bus during the coronavirus pandemic.

In judging each safety measure independently  ̶  with one being the most important and six being the least  ̶  133 or 67% gave strict enforcement of the face covering mandate the highest ranking. TCAT has been requiring both riders and bus drivers (unless they are alone while driving) to wear masks or face coverings since April, per an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Since that time, TCAT has supplied drivers with masks to hand out to riders in need, but strongly encourages customers to bring their own in case supplies are depleted.

The survey ended early July, but it so happened that soon after Tompkins County alerted local businesses, managers and leaders in a letter that the state added muscle to the face covering mandate with stricter enforcement measures. See: https://regs.health.ny.gov/book/export/html/57505

In filling out the TCAT survey a smaller number of other riders, and a proportion of those same riders, ranked other safety practices as No. 1 or equal in importance as follows:

  • Continue strict daily disinfection regiment of entire fleet, 29%
  • Limit each bus to 20 riders, 23%
  • Strictly enforce social distancing on the bus, 19%
  • Install physical barriers, 14%
  • Alter infrastructure (sidewalks, roadways) surrounding bus stops to promote social distancing, 10%

In addition to the face covering policy, TCAT has already implemented other factors listed above to include: adhering to routine fleet disinfection; limiting each bus to 20 riders to allow for social distancing; and requesting riders to sit as far apart as possible while in transit.

Survey respondents indicated that neither the installation of physical driver barriers on buses nor physical alterations at bus stops (to physically thwart crowding) are a top priority. Nonetheless, TCAT is in the process of procuring Plexiglas-type shields to be installed next to the driver’s seat to enable the agency to resume collecting fares. TCAT ceased fare collection starting in April, a policy that has been extended through Sept. 5, to minimize contact between riders and drivers, who are seated adjacent to the fare collection equipment.  In the next few weeks, TCAT intends to start installing temporary barriers until permanent shields can be delivered for installation, likely in October.

Additionally, at present TCAT has no plan underway to change or ask for infrastructure changes in or around bus stops. Instead, TCAT employees are posting signs to remind riders to practice social distancing while they wait for the bus.

 Other survey results

Of those responding to how the pandemic impacted their TCAT use:

  • 64% said they stopped using the transit system completely
  • 18% said they drastically reduced their number of trips
  • 9% said they slightly reduced their number of trips
  • 6% said there was no impact in their number of trips
  • 3% did not respond

When asked what factors informed their decision to stop or reduce using TCAT:

  • 26% said due to their employers’ stay-at-home directives
  • 20%, said fear of contagion
  • 17% said they took advice from government/ medical professionals not to use public transportation
  • 16% said due to school closing and remote learning
  • 16% said due to the closing of their entertainment and shopping venues
  • 4% percent said they were laid off or furloughed from work

Mirroring state and national trends, TCAT’s ridership plunged by more than 90% in mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic escalated in the state and when Tompkins County first confirmed the first cases here. Ridership has since recovered somewhat and is now down to around 80% of what it normally is during the summer service period. TCAT will begin its fall season on Sun., Aug. 30, with more service to accommodate the return of students.  Details on fall service will soon be available at https://www.tcatbus.com

For more information about TCAT’s pandemic response, as well as important links, please go to:

https://www.tcatbus.com/frequently-asked-questions-about-tcat-the-coronavirus-crisis/

Want to make a mask from materials around the house? Several local agencies are supplying masks as well and there are numerous websites that demonstrate how to make an adequate face covering. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html.

 

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