In response to UNC students returning to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Chapel Hill Transit has made several changes to its service. These changes include reduced weekday routes, reduced bus capacities and the introduction of Sunday service for the first time in 40 years.
"Normally, transit is about taking as many people as possible from one place to another," said Jeffrey Sullivan, community outreach manager for Chapel Hill Transit. "This year, our job is to get as many people safely from one place to another across as many trips as we can provide.”
The weekday routes in operation are the A, CM, CW, D, FCX, J, HS, NS, NU, RU, S and U.
The weekend routes include the A, CM, CW, D, J, N, NS, NU and U.
As of Aug. 3, Chapel Hill Transit has decreased its service to 12 weekday routes that operate Monday through Friday, and nine weekend routes that operate Saturday and Sunday. The weekend service has the same routes as their weekday counterparts but run at different times.
Routes B, CCX, CL, F, G, JFX, N and T are not running, but Sullivan said Chapel Hill Transit aims to remain flexible under ever-changing circumstances.
New COVID-19 policies include:
- Reducing bus capacity to 10, with seats spaced to allow for maximum physical distancing
- Separating the driver from the passengers
- Encouraging riders to open windows for air circulation
- Rear door boarding
- Increasing signage
- Requiring riders to wear masks.
Exceptions to the face-covering rule include children under the age of 12, riders who have health exemptions, religious reasons and compliance with law enforcement.
“Masks are technically required, but we do understand that there are some exceptions," Sullivan said. "And we don’t want to not give service to somebody who can’t wear masks just because we made an assumption about them."
Todd McGee, community relations director for Orange County, said it’s simply too early to tell if public transit is safe to ride.
“It really depends on how well everybody adheres to the protocols,” McGee said. “If everybody wears a mask, if everybody’s washing their hands, if everybody’s sitting apart, if the buses are doing what they can to keep things clean, that’s really what’s going to ultimately determine if it’s successful or not.”
However, Chapel Hill Town Council Member Michael Parker, who is also a member of the Chapel Hill Public Transit Committee, said he hopes the measures being put in place are sufficient, and he referenced recent studies done that found there have been fewer cases of COVID-19 attributed to public transportation than previously thought.
“So personally, I’m feeling a lot better about our ability for Chapel Hill Transit to get people to their jobs — to get people to classes — in a way that is safe,” Parker said.
Sullivan said there is no single good answer for whether people should use public transit at this time, and it all comes down to the comfort level of the individual. He encouraged anyone with concerns about how the buses are operating to let Chapel Hill Transit know.
“I think there’s an inherent risk no matter what you do on transit, from the fact that it’s an enclosed space,” Sullivan said. “But these are the days we live in, so it’s all a question of what you’re comfortable with and what steps you’re taking to minimize risks.”
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