VIA takes part in pledge for transit safety during COVID pandemic

Protocols include requirements for masks and face coverings, frequent disinfection of vehicles

SAN ANTONIO – In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, public transit agencies across the country are pledging to keep passengers safe.

VIA is now part of the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Health and Safety Commitments Program, which outlines best practices when it comes to COVID-19 safety protocols.

Protocols include requirements for masks and face coverings, frequent disinfection of vehicles and social distancing. The social distancing requirements have prompted a bit of a balancing act for VIA. It’s only seeing about 50% of the passenger load it had before the pandemic, but it’s maintaining 85% of its pre-COVID service capacity.

“The pre-COVID level presumed or operated under a non-social distancing environment,” said Jeffrey Arndt, VIA President and CEO. “And the social distancing has suddenly and effectively shrunk those buses to vans. We allow 16 passengers, so it’s become the capacity of a van.”

Arndt said extra buses have been added to some routes to pick up passengers who may be left behind when a bus is full.

While the decline in ridership has been pretty sharp, it’s lower than other transit agencies across the country. Arndt said that’s because VIA carries a high proportion of essential workers.

“They’re working full time jobs, often six days a week, often in essential businesses or supporting essential businesses,” he said. “So the fact we still have a fairly large cadre out there is [due to] the circumstances they have and the type of trips they have to make.”

Arndt also pointed to those who are transit-reliant for other services for trips to the doctor or grocery stores. He estimates 60% of passengers do not have easy access to a car on a given day.

Transit officials believe ridership will begin to rebound only when a COVID-19 vaccine is in wide circulation, which could happen by the end of next spring.

In the meantime, safety measures will be key to maintaining confidence among riders, Arndt said.