How LA Metro And Other Public Transit Agencies Are Adapting To Our New Coronavirus Reality

Plenty of leg room on the Red Line these days. (Chava Sanchez/LAist )

Our professional and personal lives have been dramatically upended by the spread of COVID-19, but regional public transit in greater Los Angeles is still moving — though it's noticeably less crowded right now (and service is reduced in some places).

As of Wednesday, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is running regular weekday service and agency officials say there are currently no plans to shut down.

But the agency "may adjust service on certain lines based... on street realities," spokeswoman Anna Chen wrote in a post on Metro's blog The Source.

The prevailing messaging from Metro: "If you can stay home, please do so."

Officials have advised the system only be used by "essential workers and those who need to access crucial resources."

"Metro is a mobility safety net for many people in Los Angeles County," Chen said. "That includes many who work in hospitals, nursing homes, groceries and other places that are too important to fail right now."

(Courtesy Los Angeles Metro)

Metro has formed a Contagious Virus Response Task Force and is in regular communication with the county health department and the CDC. The agency has intensified cleaning at Union Station and other major transit hubs with a focus on frequently touched surfaces like doors, handrails and TAP vending machines. Trains and buses are being cleaned once a day.

The agency said it will follow the guidance of public health officials "should there be any instances of the virus on the transit system," Metro spokesman Dave Sotero told us last week. As of Wednesday, officials said they were not aware of any COVID-19 infections on its system or among its employees or contract workers.

Parts of Union Station will be closed this week as a result of the outbreak, but officials said it won't affect operations or access to Amtrak, Metrolink or Metro's rail and bus lines.

Riders on the B (Red), D (Purple) and L (Gold) lines, along with bus riders, will be "appropriately guided to those services by security and station personnel," Chen said.

Meanwhile, Metro's March board meeting was postponed and its headquarters downtown is now closed to the public (except for a few select appointment-based services).

One concern raised by monthly pass holders: will I get a refund if I'm under orders to work from home or self-quarantine and can't ride?

Yes, Metro officials said, but hang on to those passes.

"Once they start riding again, affected customers can call 866-TAPTOGO and we will add the additional days to their TAP cards," Chen wrote on Metro's blog.

Chen also announced that the ridership requirements attached to monthly parking permits have been waived for March and April.


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WHAT ABOUT L.A. CITY'S PUBLIC TRANSIT?

As of Wednesday, all L.A. Department of Transportation transit services are operational and on normal schedules, according to department officials. That includes DASH and Commuter Express buses, along with senior and on-demand shuttle services.

LADOT is evaluating that decision "day-to-day," spokesman Colin Sweeney told LAist this week. The department is consulting with public health officials and service may change based on how the situation develops in L.A.

"There are still many people required to report to work [who] depend on our transit services to get there," Sweeney said. "So long as proper precautions and social distancing recommendations are observed, public transportation remains a safe option for healthy individuals."


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The L.A. City Council has also tasked the department with establishing updated sanitation protocols for the dockless electric vehicles it manages — as in scooters and e-bikes. Several of the companies licensed to operate in the city have already announced enhanced cleaning and employee hygiene procedures.

One company, Lime, has fully suspended its operations in L.A. and the rest of California — among other cities and countries — pulling thousands of scooters off SoCal streets.

Asked if LADOT was considering grounding scooters and e-bikes citywide, Sweeney told LAist it's a wait-and-see situation and the department is in regular contact with operators on the measures they're taking to keep riders safe.

Blue LA, an electric car-sharing service run through a partnership with LADOT, has suspended its operations "indefinitely," according to its website.

Blue LA officials said they hope to resume service "as soon as the situation permits."

WHAT ABOUT TRANSIT SERVICES RUN BY OTHER CITIES?

Here's what we know so far:

  • The Antelope Valley Transit Authority has cut maximum occupancy on its buses by 50%.
  • Foothill Transit announced a new service level system, in which they could potentially start scaling back service in response to the outbreak. The agency is currently operating at Level 1 — "regular service, no disruptions." Level 6 would be the "last resort" of fully suspended service. Bus boarding is now rear-door only — except for riders who need to use the front door ramp — and the agency is not collecting fares right now "in order to maintain proper social distancing."
  • Big Blue Bus, operated by the city of Santa Monica, has halted service on a few of its lines to "ensure continuity of operations and match ridership demand."
  • Starting Thursday, March 19, Culver CityBus is waiving fares for riders. The agency is also asking riders to board using the rear door to limit contact with bus drivers, though front door boarding is still happening for riders with certain mobility needs. Certain bus lines are running on Saturday service timelines through the week.
  • Both Pasadena Transit's buses and its on-demand shuttle service for seniors and people with disabilities remain in service as of Wednesday.
  • Bus services in the cities of Glendale and Burbank are also operating as normal.

UPDATES:

Friday, March 20, 9:02 a.m.: This article was updated with new information from Foothill Transit.

Thursday, March 19, 6:33 a.m.: This article was updated with information on changes to Culver CityBus operations.

Thursday, March 19, 10:51 a.m.: This article was updated with information on partial closures at Union Station.

This article was originally published at 3:10 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18.

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