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Foothill Transit Rolls Along, Stronger and Safer Than Ever Before

When the pandemic hit Southern California, many of us shifted our operations to a home base. But most frontline workers don't have that luxury, and relied on transit systems to get to their jobs in health care, grocery stores, construction and other workplaces to keep our world moving forward.

Public transportation is one of those essential services. Felicia Friesema, a spokesperson for Foothill Transit, says that in the early days of the pandemic, the usual charge of getting riders safely from point A to point B morphed to something bigger as transit workers also were called upon to be guardians of community health.

"There was no resistance to doing that, but it created some interesting logistical challenges for us at the beginning of the pandemic," Friesema says.

Those challenges were nearly invisible to people who didn't depend on buses to get to work, to get groceries, and to pick up medication at the pharmacy—yet public transportation benefits an entire community. Everyone can get behind fewer cars on the road and cleaner air. And as people commute to work on public transportation, they may be climbing a career ladder for themselves and helping other essential professionals.

"When we think of front-line medical workers, we tend to forget that this includes more than doctors. Good health care requires a rainbow of professions, many of whom rely on public transit to get to work," Friesema says.

Riders were also asked to wear masks, stagger their seating to be as far away as possible from others, and to enter/exit through the rear door only.

Navigating Changes

One thing that didn't change much for the transit system was the schedule—it was important to stay consistent to get people where they were going. As the ridership decreased significantly because people were staying home to work and study and because they were no longer taking optional trips, people who did need to ride to get to work and to get groceries could spread out and maintain physical distance.

"It was probably the only time you would ever hear somebody in public transit say, 'Having fewer people on board is a good thing.'"

Cleaning buses and other tangential facilities was important before, but it became even more critical. What Friesema terms "meticulous disinfection" is here to stay. Even after a COVID vaccine and when life becomes more normal, detailed cleaning protocols won't go away.

Friesema says that she hopes riders get the message that we're all in this together, and that Foothill Transit is doing the heavy lifting to make sure safety is the No. 1 priority.

"We've really tried, especially in our onboard communications, to emphasize the importance of being kind," Friesema says. "When it comes to safety and mutual responsibility for each other, I hope it will continue. Wearing a mask is an act of kindness, not only for yourself, but for everybody else around you."