BART announces 15 steps to ensure patron safety as ridership increases

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Karen Chow/File

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BART will implement new cleaning regimens to ensure patron safety as the Bay Area reopens in the wake of COVID-19.

While the public transit system has remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, massive ridership decreases forced the agency to reconsider its finances and policies regarding patron and worker safety. BART released a 15-step reopening plan Wednesday, which includes new cleaning procedures and equipment, along with the continuance of a mandatory face mask policy for all patrons 13 or older. Additionally, according to the plan, BART will implement a new infrastructure projects schedule.

According to BART spokesperson James Allison, BART stations have been cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectant since mid-February, especially in spots that are most frequently touched.

Allison noted that car cleaning, however, is now being done nightly, using new electrostatic backpacks. BART employees in protective suits wear electrostatic backpacks and use nozzles to spray disinfectant on every part of the train, according to a BART press release.

BART may also install face mask vending machines in stations, the press release adds. Currently, only BART police officers and Downtown San Francisco station agent booths have extra face masks to give to patrons.

“We are going to be continuing these steps for the foreseeable future,” Allison said. “I cannot guarantee that we can continue to do these steps forever, but we will do them until we get further guidance from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

BART decided on these 15 steps to accommodate increased ridership by working with health agencies, peer transit agencies and the Bay Area Council, Allison added.

According to a press release, BART ridership has been about 90% below its baseline every day in May due to COVID-19. While BART is uncertain about the near future, Allison said it has several predictive models, which estimate that ridership will increase to between 15% and 50% of its regular levels.

“We ordinarily have been using ticket fares to pay for our costs,” Allison said. “Now, we have to figure out another way to pay the bank accounts so we can keep running.”

According to Allison, BART completely changed its funding model to accommodate the severe decrease in ridership by relying principally on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, along with other federal funding.

While BART also hopes for funding from the state of California, Allison added, imminent federal funding in the form of the second part of the CARES Act will hopefully help sustain the transportation agency.

“Now that we have been able to survive the original shock, we are adjusting our budget to absorb the new cost of cleaning,” Allison said. “In the past, we would have a fiscal year budget that would be changed once a year. Now, we’re looking at that budget every two or three months.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.