VANCOUVER -- Call it the case of the purloined Purell.

The Lower Mainland’s transit authority put hand sanitizer dispensers in several transit stations as a way to guard against the spread of COVID-19, but recently, it’s been the thieves who have been cleaning up.

TransLink reported this week that four dispenser stands were vandalized during April and May, and the hand sanitizer was stolen.

“They tend to disappear as they’re dear products,” said TransLink Board Chair Lorraine Cunningham at the board’s meeting this week.

It wasn’t that long ago that hand sanitizer was in desperately short supply, with demand hiked during the pandemic.

The hot commodity was even targeted by thieves, with Vancouver police charging one man for allegedly stealing masks, sanitizer and personal protective equipment from a Vancouver retirement home.

On transit, no thieves have been unmasked so far.

As a way to deter thefts, TransLink staff chained the dispensers down. Since then, no more dispensers have disappeared. The transit authority is now fast-tracking more secure hand sanitizer stands.

“The current hand sanitizers were quickly leased. We’re looking at more professional ones that we can bolt to the floor in key locations,” said Michel Ladrak, the CEO of the BC Rapid Transit Company.

Riders were unimpressed.

“I think it’s a little ridiculous,” said Darrell Phillips at the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain Station Saturday. “I think people should leave it alone and let people sanitize their hands.”

Another rider, Jonathan Stark, said he’s glad that TransLink is taking the measure.

“I encourage everyone to use it. It keeps our environment safer for COVID-19,” he said.

Public transit ridership collapsed during the pandemic to around 10 per cent of normal, the board heard this week.

More recently, ridership has rebounded to around 30 per cent of normal, the board heard.

Another TransLink campaign is to ask returning riders to wear a mask as part of the “Wearing is Caring” campaign.

The agency is giving special TransLink-branded masks to riders at surprise locations for free.

And staff are asking any sanitizer thief to come clean.