Hundreds of thousands of people in the Seattle area take public transit each day, so the region’s buses, trains and ferries are a particular focus for officials as they seek to manage the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Here’s what transit officials say riders should know about staying healthy while getting where they need to go.

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What can you do as a public transit rider to keep yourself and others healthy?

King County Metro, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries all encourage passengers who feel sick or are experiencing symptoms of the virus to stay home and avoid public places, following guidance from local and state public health agencies. At a news conference Saturday, King County Executive Dow Constantine urged people with cold and flu symptoms to stay off the buses.

Riders should also cover their sneezes and coughs, wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their face after being in public places.

What if you see something that you’re concerned about? 

Passengers who see an unhygienic surface that needs attention are encouraged to alert their driver or another transit employee. Metro riders can call customer service offices at 206-553-3000 or reach out via Twitter @kcmetrobus. Sound Transit riders can call or text the agency’s security office 24 hours a day at 206-398-5268.


Sound Transit officials also recommend riders distance themselves from other passengers as needed to avoid spreading the virus.

“It’s not rude to get up and move if you need to,” officials wrote in a Sound Transit news release.

If the spread of the virus continues to grow, additional social-distancing measures, such as telecommuting, staying home from work, avoiding crowds and abstaining from attending sporting events could be recommended, said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, a health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County.

How often are buses cleaned?

As a matter of routine practice, Metro conducts a deep clean of all interior bus surfaces every 30 days.

Metro Access paratransit vehicles are cleaned daily as are Metro Water Taxi hand rails, table tops and seats. Buses are inspected daily for garbage and crews sweep for other debris, Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer said.

Metro will immediately pull buses out of service for cleaning if a passenger creates an unsanitary condition on a bus from a sickness of any kind, Constantine said.


Scientists are still researching how long the novel coronavirus can survive on surfaces, but an analysis of 22 earlier studies of similar coronaviruses found that they can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces for up to nine days at room temperature, but they can become inactive using common disinfectants.

Washington State Ferries cleans and sanitizes vessels between every trip. That includes sweeping, emptying garbage and wiping surfaces with disinfectant.

Are local agencies changing their approach to combat the virus’ spread?

Metro workers are now spraying all bus handrails, seats and windows each night with a sanitizing solution called Virex. The cleaning occurs after buses are fueled and vacuumed. The spray replaces bleach-soaked cloths that Metro had briefly used.

Plans are also being drawn to accelerate Metro’s longtime practice of deep-cleaning buses every 30 days, which includes wiping every handrail, strap and seat with foam disinfectants, to every 15 days, according to Kenneth Price, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587.

Sound Transit officials said that crews will be cleaning buses, trains and stations more deeply and frequently. Workers will remove any vehicle that has a potential threat to public health from service until it is disinfected.

Special emphasis will be placed on areas where people often touch, like handrails, escalators and elevator buttons, according to the release.

Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said the agency will move to an alternative route plan, similar to its snow plan, with reduced service if the virus affects a substantial number of employees or impacts ridership demand.

Staff Reporter Mike Lindblom contributed to this report.

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(Anika Varty / The Seattle Times)