A notice announces services changes on Tri-Met. Photo by Aidan Austin.
June is Ride Transit Month and in 2021 our celebration is an unusual one. COVID-19 changed the way we all ride transit this past year. Some of us have been riding regularly but with much different protocols, ridership levels, and service. Some of us have been on transit a few times since last February, and some of us haven’t been on transit for more than a year and a half — but are looking forward to taking our first rides as cases continue to go down.
In May 2021 Transportation Choices Coalition put out a call for stories about Washingtonians’ experiences with transit this past year. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve heard so far.
Maribeth shared that, “Our boss called us all back into the office in June 2020, when our bus service still had such reduced hours of operation that I was unable to commute by bus. But in July when our county achieved a Phase 2 status, our bus service was increased and I started commuting by bus again. There were signs on the bus and notices on the website about wearing a mask and the extra health and safety practices transit was using to keep everyone safe. We entered and exited through the back door, sat in every other row and there were very few of us on the bus. Often I was the only rider. Now ridership is beginning to increase. High school kids are using the bus a couple of days a week and commuters are going to work on the bus again. We’ve been at maximum capacity a couple of times but the driver calls for a shadow bus so we don’t wait long. I see old friends who’ve been working from home for a year. Our bus rider community looks a little different with some new and some long time riders returning. We’re all still wearing masks but feel comfortable taking transit.”
A Tri-Met bus with sign on the side reading, “Thanks for wearing your mask.” Photo by Aidan Austin.
Emily shares, “I’m 74 and retired. I live on top of Queen Anne Hill and have taken the bus several times. It’s been fine — I sit near the back door for more fresh air and always wear a mask. There has never been more that one or two other people on the bus when I get on! I’ve had two vaccines now and do hope ridership will improve. And all the bus drivers have been very welcoming and kind.”
Denise wanted to say thanks to one driver in particular: “There was a lady driver on the Route 1 bus in the after work commute who was fantastic. Personable, friendly, she chatted with riders while we were stuck in traffic. Sadly I don’t know her name and only enjoyed her driving my route once in early May. Thank you, friendly Route 1 driver!”
Joe reports that from what he’s seen, everyone is doing their part. “I like that there’s been 100% mask compliance on Skagit Transit on each of my rides. I do think ridership will come back as we get further into reopening.”
Aidan, who shared several photos of his experience, says, “Up until just recently, there was a lot less ridership. Obviously, agencies have adapted by changing their service, requiring masks and distancing, but otherwise things feel about the same. It was actually really nice to be riding the bus into early 2021, as everyone was wearing their masks and the ridership hadn’t picked up yet. Now that everyone’s vaccinated, I’m more comfortable being on busier buses. I’m worried that ridership will pick up on routes that are running on (reduced) COVID schedules.
“In the early days of the pandemic, I didn’t ride much. During that time, I was really surprised by the decrease in ridership. It was very noticeable, and made a big difference on my ride. Throughout the months (very slowly) things have started to feel like they have gotten back to normal. There is more traffic on the roads, and more people on buses. One other thing that really surprised me was the smaller agencies. Even in June 2021, some of them are still doing free fares due to COVID! It has been nice having fareless bus rides on those agencies.” (Ed. note: We wrote more about Link Transit going fare-free here.)
And finally this deep thanks from TCC Executive Director Alex Hudson: “My family uses transit for anything we can’t walk to do, and my partner is an essential worker, so we’ve been riding transit this whole time. At first it was really scary and empty, everyone kind of side-eyeing each other. But then it was just familiar — my same stop, my same seats, the same sense of camaraderie you get with your fellow riders knowing you’re all in it together, the pleasure of looking out the window.
“That’s been possible because the agencies have been nothing short of heroic in keeping the system moving and safe. I am forever grateful that the transit agencies kept moving when my family needed them more than ever. I know it wasn’t easy and was probably scary. But without all that effort, sacrifice, and dedication my family would have been trapped. And because of all that badassery we’re making it through with our jobs and our sanity. Thank you Metro and SoundTransit. Truly. Thank you.
“Every single person who makes transit possible is an angel as far as I’m concerned. Drivers, janitors, mechanics, planners, administration, everyone – it’s been an honor to watch how hard they’ve worked under such enormous pressure. It wasn’t a given that any of this would have worked out okay – and because of totality of their collective effort it did. Just, wow.”
Alex Hudson + fam brought their Christmas tree home on the bus in December.
Want to share your story of riding transit this past year? Share it here and we’ll post it later this month.
This past year transit has helped get us home from work, home from shopping, and home for the holidays. Thank you to all the transit agency staff who rose to the unprecedented challenges of this past year and helped Washingtonians get us where we needed to go. We are so grateful.