'Distancing will not always be possible': TransLink recommends masks as economy reopens, ridership increases
VANCOUVER -- As B.C.’s economy reopens, TransLink is urging customers to have realistic expectations around physical distancing on transit, something it says may not be possible in some cases as ridership increases.
"We do have to be upfront and say that distancing is not always going to be possible on transit," TransLink’s Ben Murphy told CTV News Tuesday.
"In those instances when distancing is not possible, that’s where a mask can be a good recommendation," Murphy added, noting it can take just a few minutes for thousands of people to crowd on to a platform if there is a technical issue or delay on transit.
Masks are not expected to be made mandatory.
"We reflect what the view of public health has been, and that is when distancing is difficult, people should consider wearing masks, and that includes on public transit," he said.
TransLink, which saw an 83 per cent decrease in ridership during the pandemic, is expecting an increase in transit trips as parts of B.C’s economy reopen and many people begin returning to their commutes.
During the height of the pandemic, TransLink urged the public to only use the system for essential trips for nearly two months, causing the loss of millions of dollars a day in revenue as it maintained basic service levels.
As of Tuesday, SkyTrain was up to about 90 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 service levels, and SeaBus service had resumed sailings every half hour.
Bus service is also being increased, but capacity remains a challenge given some seats remain closed as a physical distancing precaution. In some cases, that means buses need to pass people waiting at stops.
"It’s a big challenge for transit, something we’ll have to continually be mindful of in watching that ridership — just to make sure we are supplying an appropriate amount of service," Murphy said. "Right now it’s not too much of a problem because ridership is so low. Over weeks and months as we see people return to the system, it’s going to pose larger challenges as to how we can address that."
At Lougheed Town Centre Station in Burnaby on Tuesday morning, people riding SkyTrain said fellow passengers have been mindful of keeping apart on board, even as it’s gotten busier.
"It was filled with folks getting ready to go to work, it’s kind of a good sign, things are picking up. But still we were respecting social distancing and I was happy to see that," said SkyTrain commuter Claude Lagasse.
Doug Holmes takes SkyTrain six days a week.
"You gotta be on your toes and make sure you’re away from people," Holmes said.
"I’m a bit concerned," Holmes added when asked about concerns about ridership increasing. "Last week things started picking up. Definitely more people."
TransLink says it expects the increase in readership to be "slow and gradual" as opposed to sudden and says it will continue to increase service over the coming weeks.
Murphy says more details on additional physical distancing plans and measures are expected to be made public in the next few days, but in the meantime he is warning users to be realistic about what to expect and says some transit users may also need to consider their health before they choose to board.
"If you have underlying health issues, you’ll have to make your own judgments and considerations because it will not always be possible to physically distance on transit," Murphy said.