PORTLAND, Ore. — Beginning Sunday, July 26, TriMet said it will allow riders to be within 3 feet of one another to increase the capacity on their buses and train.
According to a release from the transportation agency, the adjustments are in accordance with directives issued by the Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Kate Brown.
Face coverings are still required aboard buses and trains and TriMet said it encourages people to wear face coverings while waiting for trains and buses as Gov. Kate Brown has required face coverings in any outdoor space where you cannot responsibly maintain 6 feet of distance.
TriMet has increased the level of cleaning on its buses and trains to include nightly sanitizations, the use of disinfectant fogging machines and a pilot test of ultraviolet light disinfectant.
High-touch surfaces are cleaned at transit centers and busy stops and stations but beginning on Sunday high-touch points will be cleaned every four hours. TriMet has hired 130 additional cleaning staff to aid in the sanitization of buses and trains.
"This isn't a decision TriMet is making arbitrarily," said TriMet spokesperson Tia York. "We've been working closely with health officials since the very beginning of the pandemic."
TriMet has distributed more than 1.5 million masks to riders with its face-covering dispensers on buses and trains. It has also installed hand sanitizer dispensers on all buses and the Type 5 MAX trains. TriMet said it plans to install them on the remainder of the light rail vehicles. TriMet is working with a family-owned, Wood Village company to fabricate permanent, stainless steel face covering and hand sanitizer dispensers for all of its vehicles. In a release, it said it plans to install these sanitization and face-cover dispensing machines in the next "few weeks."
It is also in the process of installing operator safety panels. Before the pandemic, about half of TriMet buses had these panels to protect operators from assault and it planned to install them in the rest of the buses over time, but this project has been fast-tracked due to COVID-19.
The changes in social distancing measures are not sitting well with many TriMet drivers according to Shirley Block, union president of Amalgamated Transit Union 757. Block told KGW it's is the wrong time to increase rider capacity. She wants TriMet to keep requiring 6 feet of distance between passengers.
"It's not like the [COVID-19] count is going down, it's continuing to rise and that's my greatest fear," said Block. "It's continuing to rise and TriMet is muffling more people together."
Block said she fears for operators' health and safety, as many riders refuse to wear masks and respond with hostility when asked to by drivers.
"It's the fact that people don't like to be told what to do," said Block. "We had one person literally dash pop onto the operator. We've had water thrown on them. We had one person struck in the shoulder as they walked out the door."
For the week of July 12-18, TriMet saw its busiest week since mid-March with an estimated 763,597 trips, which is down 58% compared to July of 2019. However, with the new 3-foot distancing rule, it will allow ridership to increase slightly.
The new capacity limits will be as follows:
- 40-foot bus: 19-24 passengers (The vast majority of buses are 40-feet long.)
- 30-foot bus: 13-17 passengers
- MAX trains: 22-26 passengers
- WES trains: 25-37 passengers, depending on the type of car
TriMet encourages people to only ride its buses and trains as necessary to leave room for people who have to use the public transit service.
The Steel Bridge MAX Improvements project will also bring changes to MAX service. It begins on Sunday, August 2 – Saturday, August 29 and it will close the Steel Bridge to MAX trains, buses and autos. All five MAX lines will be disrupted and there will be shuttle buses that connect trips across the Willamette River. Face coverings will also be required on shuttles and hand sanitizer will be made available for anyone who needs it. A total of 19 to 24 people will be allowed aboard on shuttles at once due to social distancing needs. TriMet warns that riders may have to wait longer to get on board a shuttle than they have in the past.
TriMet continues to post updates for riders at trimet.org/health.