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Transit returns to full-capacity this week

Transit is back. Over the next couple days, agencies around the region will relax many of their COVID precautions as the bulk of Washington State’s restrictions end.

Like many of you, I’ve still been treating transit as an essential-trips-only service. I didn’t want to take a limited spot from someone who needed it more than I did. If biking was a practical option, I biked. I have taken the bus a handful of times, but it hasn’t been a regular part of my transportation mix like it was before the pandemic.

But now I am vaccinated, and so are more than 70% of eligible King County residents. It’s time for transit to reopen to full capacity and regain its place as the go-to way to get around town (well, other than biking and walking of course).

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Riders will still have to wear masks and give the bus driver space (I mean, you should have been giving the bus driver space even before the pandemic), but the signs blocking off every other bus seat will be going away. Perhaps most importantly, buses will allow passengers until they reach normal capacity limits. This makes relying on transit much more practical for more people and more trips because it really sucks to get passed up by a full bus.

Many lines are still operating at reduced service levels compared to 2019, so if you haven’t been taking the bus since the pandemic started, you may find that your every-7-minutes bus is now a 15-minute bus (or your 15-minute bus is now every 30 minutes). So check the schedule.

I understand that many people probably still feel anxious about getting on a crowded bus. This has been a traumatic time, and feeling wary of crowds seems very natural. The good news it that studies have not found much evidence linking transit use with the spread of COVID even before vaccines. I hope these results hold as capacity increases, though the fact that the cities studied (like New York) have very high transit use gives me hope.

Chart shows no correlation between increasing bus ridership and COVID cases in New York.
Starting in mid-April, there is no apparent correlation between increasing bus ridership and COVID numbers in New York. Chart from “Public Transit and COVID-19 Pandemic: Global Research and Best Practices” by Sam Schwartz Consulting.

At the same time, the heat dome reminded us that driving cars has serious consequences, too. Vancouver, B.C., saw that in 2020 about 10% of all commuters started driving instead of taking transit. I’m sure there is a similar pattern in Seattle. While this shift made sense due to the pandemic, it’s not sustainable environmentally, economically or practically. For example, downtown Seattle, our state’s biggest employment center, cannot fully reopen without transit. There simply isn’t enough space for a significant percentage of former transit riders to drive instead. Seattle needs transit.

Chart showing commute mode shifts from 2019 to 2020 in Vancouver.
From a City of Vancouver, B.C., presentation (PDF)

We live in a difficult time, trapped between multiple traumatizing forces. We want to act responsibly to prevent the spread of COVID, but we also want to act responsibly to reduce climate change. And all the while, we gotta get through the days and do whatever needs to be done. You’re doing a good job. If transit would make your life easier, maybe now’s the time to get back on the bus.

More details from King County Metro:

Riders soon will have more public transportation options as buses, trains and ferries in the Puget Sound region are returning to full capacity and opening all seats starting in July.

Governor Inslee is dropping state social distancing restrictions for transit as part of his decision to reopen the state. As vaccination rates continue to climb in the Puget Sound region and other state restrictions are relaxed, even more people are expected to use transit this summer.

Passengers still must wear masks on transit and at indoor transit facilities in compliance with the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mandate. Passengers also must continue to maintain a six-foot distance from bus drivers, except when paying fare.

The following agencies are removing signs or barriers that have blocked off seats during the pandemic: Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, and Washington State Ferries.

Community Transit

Starting Thursday, July 1, normal passenger capacity will resume on all bus routes, including ST Express bus routes operated by Community Transit, and DART paratransit services. The RideStore will lift its capacity restrictions and is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Customers can use Community Transit’s bus seat availability tool to check the capacity on their route.

Everett Transit

Starting Thursday, July 1, normal passenger capacity will resume on all bus routes and Para Transit service.

King County Metro

Starting Saturday, July 3, normal passenger capacity will resume on Metro buses, on-demand services such as Via to Transit, Seattle Streetcar, water taxis, community vans and shuttles, vanpools, and Access paratransit.

Kitsap Transit

Starting July 1, normal passenger capacity will return to buses, ferries and vanpools, however, the process of removing seat bands from all vehicles will not be finished overnight. Also, regular operations will resume at Annapolis ferry dock, the agency will drop shadow-bus trips, and will reinstate certain bus routes.

Pierce Transit

Starting July 1, normal passenger capacity will resume on all bus routes, including ST Express bus routes operated by Pierce Transit, and SHUTTLE paratransit service. The Bus Shop customer service center at Tacoma Dome Station will restore its regular lobby hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Sound Transit

Starting July 3, normal passenger capacity will resume on Link light rail and ST Express bus routes operated by King County Metro (Routes 522, 542, 545, 550 and 554). On Sounder, Tacoma Link and all other ST Express routes, normal capacity will resume starting July 1.

Washington State Ferries

Starting July 1, normal passenger capacity will resume on ferries, and customers will no longer be encouraged to stay in their vehicles.

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