Four ways to promote social distancing at your transit agency

Cities across North America are at varying phases of re-opening. However, the transit providers that serve these cities share one priority: Keeping passengers and employees safely moving during this unprecedented time. There are so many factors impacting agencies’ ability to meet that important goal while operating under entirely new circumstances. Concerns around transit, issues regarding funding, service changes, and of course, the unpredictability of the pandemic itself, are challenges we face collectively as an industry.

We cannot begin to know what it is like to face these challenges head-on, as many of our customers are doing right now. Still, we can try to offer practical tips on how to operate in this new normal. Below are four ways public transit agencies can promote social distancing for passengers and employees during the pandemic.

1. Avoid cash and ticket handling with contactless payments

Selling tickets and handling cash in close proximity to passengers is just one of several distancing challenge for drivers. The obligation to purchase and handle tickets is also a potential deterrent for those deciding whether or not to use transit during the pandemic.

With account-based fare systems, passengers can take advantage of Open Payments by purchasing tickets with a regular bank and credit cards. In fact, they can pay using a variety of contactless media options, including virtual fare cards, mobile wallets, and smart watches – to name a few. Since ridership has sharply declined for many agencies, account-based fare systems offer the opportunity to promote ridership by making payments simpler and more convenient. More importantly, it allows you to keep your drivers safe and provides a safer transit experience to passengers.

2. Prevent overcrowding by managing occupancy levels in real-time

Passengers need to know they can adequately distance themselves from others while onboard a bus. Without this knowledge, they may decide not to take public transit to begin with. Additionally, dispatchers need to know if buses are reaching capacity, so they can ensure there is proper distancing onboard – by either putting the vehicle in drop-off only mode, or dispatching an additional bus.

With a simple system extension, customers with an Automatic Passenger Counting System as well as an ITCS System based on cellular radio from INIT can access this knowledge and use it to manage crowds. Vehicle occupancy rates are displayed to the dispatcher, allowing them to react quickly if vehicles are getting close to reaching a higher occupancy. The same information can be fed into passenger information systems and shown in real-time from wayside displays and passenger apps. With this knowledge, passengers can make an educated choice on which bus to board and when. 

3. Integrate distancing efforts into your planning

Planners face a unique challenge during the pandemic. They must work around quickly changing circumstances and a constantly-shifting ridership. INIT is able to feed occupancy rates back into the planning system and allow for an integrated approach to scheduling timetables, blocks and duties. The result? Blocks that are both as cost efficient and safe as possible.

4. Maintain social distancing in the control center

Control centers are busy, sometimes crowded, and also one of the most critical spaces for transit agencies. If there is not sufficient space in the room for your dispatchers to work safely and efficiently, it poses a big challenge. Instead of having to reduce your manpower, you can equip your staff with a tablet-based dispatching solution that allows them to work outside of the control center. INIT’s mobile dispatching solution, MOBILEmodi, provides the same access to ITCS information as a regular ITCS workstation, as well as communication tools and several management functionalities. Dispatchers and supervisors can manage operations in the field, or even from home.

Meeting the demands of today’s climate is certainly a new challenge for all of us. One thing you can count on – we’re standing by your side. This new challenge will not loosen our commitment to prioritizing your agency and projects. You can rely on this partnership and be sure that we will continue to do our utmost, blaze new paths, and still believe that the future of mobility belongs to public transit.

  • Click here to listen to our podcast on "Meeting the challenges of social distancing on public transit". 
  • Watch our vido on restoring passenger confidence with real-time passenger counting. 

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