As the spread of the novel coronavirus continues and calls for social distancing keep riders at home, local transit agencies are moving to reduce bus and train trips.
King County Metro will reduce service starting Monday, including not running some bus routes and cutting trips on “nearly all routes,” the agency said Wednesday evening. Details will come by Friday, Metro said.
“We do not make reductions lightly and have designed reductions to maintain some service on as many routes as possible,” Metro said in a statement posted online. “We know that people rely on these routes to access medical care, grocery stores, and other vital services.”
Metro said it was “actively talking with community groups who represent populations likely to depend on transit.”
The reductions are “designed to maintain a resilient and sustainable transit system able to ramp back up when this chapter closes,” the statement said.
In total, Metro could cut service by about 25%, according to Metropolitan King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who said Wednesday he was informed of the coming cuts from Metro’s general manager.
Sound Transit is “looking at some reductions,” but has not settled on details, said spokesman John Gallagher. “It’s all very fluid right now.”
Ridership at Metro and Sound Transit has plummeted amid the coronavirus outbreak. Metro ridership fell 45% last Thursday compared to the same time last year and the agency said it expected ridership to continue to decrease.
Ridership on all three of Sound Transit’s modes — light rail, Sounder commuter trains and ST Express buses — has dropped by about 67% for an agency that normally carries about 160,000 daily passengers.
Just a week ago, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said he intended to continue full service, because people were already under enough stress and anybody still commuting, such as health care workers, could be considered essential employees. But rapidly evolving public health advice and government measures, including closures of some nonessential businesses like bars, have likely further reduced travel.
Metro service changes were already planned for this weekend, as part of the agency’s regular adjustments to service. Metro tallies about 400,000 boardings a day on average.
The agency estimates it is losing roughly $1.3 million in fare revenue and $5 million in lost sales taxes each week, according to preliminary figures provided by the agency. Extra cleaning and supplies are costing about $25,000 per week, Metro said.
Cutting bus service is “the right thing to do,” Dembowski said. “I think everyone is seeing we’re running a lot of empty buses [but] we want to make sure we have enough service to keep people’s ability to get around … and honor distancing recommendations. We don’t want to reduce service to such a degree where you end up with crowded buses.”
King County Water Taxi has pushed back the start of its peak service and Washington State Ferries is delaying the start of its service to Sidney, British Columbia.
Everett-based Community Transit has also studied but not announced service reductions as ridership falls.
At least 49 express trips between Snohomish County and Seattle were canceled since Thursday afternoon, rider alerts show. These happened mainly because not enough personnel showed up for the operating contractor, First Transit, according to the agency.
Community Transit spokesman Martin Munguia said Monday that while officials weren’t hearing of coronavirus cases among transit operators, some were likely staying home out of caution over any cold and flu symptoms, or to care for family.
In fact, there were two runs where the agency announced a cancellation, then sent the bus anyway after finding someone to fill in.
“At this time we plan to continue operating our normal service schedule for as long as we are able to,” Munguia said Wednesday. “Individual canceled trips are due to occasional driver shortages. We expect that will continue throughout this current situation.”