If you’re still hesitant about taking transit while COVID-19 circulates in the city, you’re not alone.
During the pandemic, the Toronto Transit Commission’s ridership dropped 85 per cent, while Metrolinx’s GO Transit was down 90 per cent.
The significant decrease actually made physical distancing from other riders easy, but as the city entered Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan, more and more businesses have opened their doors, and streetcars, buses and subways are becoming more crowded.
Already, the TTC is seeing bus ridership back up 35 to 40 per cent, and streetcar ridership up 15 to 20 per cent, says TTC spokesperson Stuart Green who admits that “physical distancing is not going be possible all the time on the TTC.”
Beginning this Thursday, the TTC is taking additional steps to make sure they’re providing transit riders with the most protection they can. They’re starting all-door boarding and putting extra service on routes where they’re seeing crowding.
“We are addressing individual routes where there’s a lot of ridership- with extra vehicles,” says Green. “We want [riders] to feel safe and comfortable and these are some of the things we are prepared to do.”
The biggest change: they’re making face coverings mandatory, which experts say is of critical importance to prevent a second wave.
“The majority of people I did observe were not wearing masks, and that’s concerning, particularly because subway cars and streetcars are air conditioned which is something that actually makes the air space more dangerous,” says Colin Furness, an epidemiologist and infectious disease professor at the University of Toronto.
While there is no evidence in Toronto or around the world that there have been any links between outbreaks and riding public transit, when asked whether or not it is safe, Furness said, “my answer is yes if it’s not crowded — if it’s crowded my answer becomes no.”
Anne Marie Aikins, senior media manager with Metrolinx which operates GO, says Metrolinx staff are mandated to wear a mask and they want to encourage their customers to wear face coverings as well. This is why they started a campaign to actively encourage people to wear them.
On top of special cleaning procedures and additional hand sanitizing stations, Metrolinx is also trying out a new pilot project. Plexiglass barriers will be placed between seats on buses and trains in the coming weeks.
“We know our biggest thing we have to overcome is building confidence in our customers,” said Aikins.
The TTC is emphasizing they’re not going to strictly enforce masks, or hand out tickets, understanding that some people have medical conditions and can’t wear them.
But they’re hopeful most people will wear them considering the ample evidence that it helps protect others and save lives.