Starting Monday, Chapel Hill Transit will operate with the reduced occupancy of 10 people per bus to ensure social distancing.
With safety measures in place, CHT will begin a reduced weekday schedule of the CM, D, G, J, NS, RU, S and U routes in June.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Parker said reducing occupancy is necessary to ensure both safety and needs of riders and operators.
“To maintain social distancing at the appropriate level, we need to significantly reduce the numbers of folks riding the buses at any given point,” Parker said, “And 10 is about what we can accommodate and still manage social distancing.”
To prioritize safety, CHT continues to implement mechanisms such as sanitizing, cleaning and separating drivers and passengers with physical barriers, while working to install face mask dispensers, said Transit Director Brian Litchfield.
Meanwhile, passengers are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and remain 6 feet apart from one another, according to guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Parker said face coverings are expected on bus rides.
“We know that one of the important things that can help stop transmission of the virus is if everybody wears masks when they're out and especially in relatively close proximity, so we hope and expect that all the folks riding a bus will use their face coverings,” he said.
Litchfield said that service reintroduction is informed by public health guidance as well as UNC’s plans during the pandemic.
“Our reopening has the sole priority on safety,” he said. “It’s also going to be closely entwined with what the University does. We're slowly starting to reopen service as the University is slowly starting to reopen campus.”
Parker said the Town’s transportation staff has considered that research operations in facilities and labs on campus will be resumed at reduced capacity, effective June 1.
“Our transit staff came up with what seems to be a good compromise, or a good solution, to provide necessary service to those folks without putting drivers or anybody else at unnecessary risk,” he said.
While some commuters are worried about the reduced capacity, Litchfield said that people should understand that it is a decision informed by the local COVID-19 situation.
“I, myself, use the bus all the time, so we understand,” he said. “COVID-19 has changed the way we go to the grocery stores or work, and it’s no difference for public transit."
Litchfield added that residents and especially normal bus riders are encouraged to contact the transportation and parking departments of UNC or UNC Medical Center to explore parking options.
When riding buses, which is only encouraged for essential trips like to work or grocery stores, it is important to prevent community spread by following CHT’s guidance, Parker said.
“If our buses or any other public services contribute to folks getting coronavirus, they are then spreading it throughout the community and putting people who may never go on a bus at risk as well,” he said.
Besides utilizing reopening services, people should continue to follow CDC guidance, said Todd McGee, Orange County community relations director.
“It is important for people to remember that we have not defeated the virus,” he said. “Certain services opening up doesn’t mean we can let our guard down.”
Parker said that decisions about shifts to public services are made from collaboration.
“This is really without precedent,” he said. “Transit operators in the Triangle are in regular communication, trying to share the best practices and understanding what the various issues are. In terms of transit, we’re doing the best we possibly can for our community and the town to keep our residents safe.”
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