89.1 WEMU

Issues Of The Environment: Keeping The AAATA Operational And Available During The Pandemic

Apr 8, 2020

AAATA Bus Stop
Credit Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority / theride.org

Many aspects of daily life have been dramatically changed due to COVID-19, and public transportation is certainly no exception.  Although services like the Ann Arbor Area Transportion Authority (AAATA) promote a cleaner environment, they still have financial obligations and public health matters to consider.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," AAATA CEO Matt Carpenter explains how his organization and other forms of public transit in Michigan are adapting to the pandemic in a conversation with WEMU's David Fair.


Overview

  • Many residents in the greater-Ann Arbor area rely on public transportation to get to essential activities, including grocery shopping and medical appointments. 
  • To adhere to Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) has temporarily suspended activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.  The schedule has been dramatically curtailed, but the buses are still running. 
  • AAATA are following strict disinfection protocols outlined by the CDC, but the buses should only be used for essential travel until Gov. Whitmer’s executive order is removed.  Some other changes in response to COVID-19 include:
    • TheRide has temporarily closed the Ypsilanti Transit Center, Blake Transit Center, and TheRide’s front desk at 2700 S. Industrial Highway
    • In addition to reduced schedules, TheRide is not charging a fare to ride its fixed route service and demand response services
    • Those riders who can are requested to board buses using the back door. 
  • Is it safe to still ride the bus and use public transportation?  If you must use the bus or train, try to stay at least 6 feet from other passengers.  Don’t touch your face, and wash your hand and clothing as soon as possible.  It may be wise to disinfect shoes or leave them outside the door as well.  AAATA is not charging fares but asking riders to enter the bus through the rear door to minimize contact with the driver.
  • Matt Carpenter, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA), says that TheRide is committed to continuing to offer public transportation service in the community to those who need it, and the agency is following the advice of the Michigan Department of Public Health and the CDC.

AAATA Reduces Service Routes in Response to Covid-19, Waives all Fares

ANN ARBOR, MI – To adhere to Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21 to temporarily suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life, The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (TheRide) has announced additional temporary reductions to their service schedule.  Community members are strongly encouraged to ride the bus for essential trips only.  In the Executive Order, Transportation is noted as critical infrastructure, and therefore, TheRide will still operate for essential use only.

“TheRide will continue to provide service for essential trips.  We understand our community has dedicated workers who must still get to their jobs and we are committed to helping them get there,” Bryan Smith, Deputy CEO of Operations at TheRide said.  “However, it’s important for those that do not need to go to work, medical appointments or the grocery store, stay home to help prevent the spread of the virus.”

In addition to the below reduced schedules, TheRide is not charging a fare to ride its fixed route service and demand response services and has temporarily closed the Ypsilanti Transit Center, Blake Transit Center and TheRide’s front desk at 2700 S. Industrial Highway.  Those riders who can, are requested to board buses using the back door. All of these precautions as well as additional cleaning and disinfecting our buses are being taken to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We ask that if you must take TheRide, you limit your contact with the driver, and maintain the CDC recommended six- foot social distancing between you and other riders,” Mary Boonin, Manager of Community Relations at TheRide said.

Reduced Service Effective Thursday, March 26

The following service reductions are dependent on workforce availability.  Schedules may change.  Visit TheRide.org or call 734-996-0400 for the most up to date information.

Fixed-Route Service: Reduced service is based on regular Sunday schedules with the exception of Route 3.

Routes not operating: 33, 41, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 68, 81, 91, 92

Routes with revised schedules: 3, 4, 5, 6, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47

Park & Ride Lot Service

  •  Green Rd. lot will only be served by Route 23
  •  Pioneer High School will only be served by Routes 24 and 25
  •  Miller Rd. lot will not be served
  •  Plymouth Rd lot will not be served
  •  State St. & Tennis Center lots will not be served
    Demand Response Service: Reduced service is based on regular Sunday schedules. Passengers are requested to limit travel for essential trips only in line with the Governor’s Executive Order 2020-21.
  •  A-Ride and GoldRide service will require at least one day advance booking. No same day trip reservations will be offered.
  •  FlexRide service will continue to allow same day reservations.
  •  No other demand response services including NightRide, HolidayRide and MyRide will operate.

Customer Service

For full maps and schedules of the reduced routes and to stay up to date on our service visit TheRide.org or call 734-996- 0400 to talk to an Information Specialist for route information, reservations for A-Ride and other business-related questions during normal business hours.

Additional Precautions

  •  All vehicles and facilities are being regularly cleaned and high-touch areas disinfected with protocols as recommended by the CDC
  •  All staff continue to receive a supply of sanitization supplies and are encouraged to follow the CDC’s hygiene guidelines
  •  TheRide has instituted social distancing among employee work environments, with many staff working remotely, all business travel canceled, and in-person meetings discouraged
    TheRide remains dedicated to the health and safety of its riders and employees and reminds riders and employees of healthy habits from the CDC:
  •  Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  •  Stay home when you are sick, if possible. This helps prevent spreading your illness to others
  •  Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  •  Wash your hands often to help keep germs away. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  •  Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  •  Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
    The latest information on TheRide’s routes, schedules and detours is available in the Ride Guide, at (734) 996-0400 and on TheRide.org. 

Michigan Flyer-AirRide to Suspend Service March 16 - April 16

Due to a sharp decline in demand by passengers traveling to and from Detroit Metro Airport, Michigan Flyer—the airport shuttle service of Indian Trails—will suspend all of its daily runs between East Lansing, Brighton, Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport from Monday, March 16, until Thursday, April 16.

Michigan Flyer-AirRide passengers holding unused tickets for this period are being issued full refunds.

Our temporary suspension of service is directly related to travel restrictions put in place by key customer groups and federal officials to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Specifically, Michigan State University in East Lansing has suspended all university-related international travel, plus any non-essential domestic travel, until April 20.  The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has suspended all international travel and study abroad programs until at least April 21.  MSU and U-M have also suspended all in-person classes until April 20 and April 21, respectively.

At the same time, the U.S. government has issued travel restrictions between the U.S. and Europe, China, South Korea, and Iran. In addition, domestic airlines are substantially reducing flight schedules to major U.S. destinations.

When We Plan to Resume Service

Michigan Flyer-AirRide expects to resume a full schedule of operations on Thursday, April 16, 2020.  In so doing, we hope to accommodate university students and faculty members who will be returning to their classes on April 20 and 21.  Tickets for travel with us on or after April 16 will be available through our website at MichiganFlyer.com or by calling 517-333-0400 on Tuesday, March 17, and beyond.

Most of Bus Services are Still Operating

You should know that only the airport-related bus service operated by Indian Trails and Michigan Flyer is temporarily suspending service.  The other bus transportation services we operate will continue to serve passengers as usual. These include:

  • The new D2A2 pilot commuter service between Detroit and Ann Arbor, which will begin on Monday, March 16.
  •  The University of Michigan’s Detroit Connector service, which provides transportation between U-M campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Detroit.
  •  Indian Trails’ charter buses, which transport groups from any location in Michigan, Northern Ohio and Northern Indiana to anywhere in the Continental U.S. and Canada.     

Indian Trails’ daily scheduled routes throughout Michigan and into Chicago, Duluth and Milwaukee, with connections to the national Amtrak and Greyhound networks.  As noted in a separate announcement, all of the buses used in our operations are cleaned and disinfected at least daily.

We will continue to communicate updates on this situation directly with our customers, as well as through our websites at www.indiantrails.com or www.michiganflyer.com.

Is it safe to still ride the bus and use public transportation? 

The federal government has asked people all across the country to stay close to home, as a way to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.  Guidelines from the White House [PDF] ask most civilians to avoid social gatherings of 10 or more, as well as most trips to stores or restaurants (some of which are open only for takeout or delivery).  Many workplaces and schools have transitioned to remote work or learning. But some people still need to commute to their workplace—a hospital, for example—or go grocery shopping.  How worried do you need to be about venturing forth? And what steps can you take to protect yourself when you do?

We talked with experts about who should be most worried about going out into the community, as well as which precautions are worth taking—and which aren’t.

The Importance of Social Distancing

Public health experts are encouraging taking social distancing measures.  That means avoiding sick people, steering clear of crowds, and staying home as much as possible, especially if the virus is circulating in your community.

The logic behind social distancing rests on two key scientific facts about the virus.  First, scientists say that its spread requires close contact—being directly coughed on or sneezed at by someone with the disease, or by being within 6 feet of an infected person for about 10 to 15 minutes or longer.  Second, the virus can survive on surfaces for hours or even days

That means the key to avoiding the disease is keeping a safe distance from sick people and, as much as possible, trying to not touch surfaces that may have the virus on them.  It also means washing your hands carefully, so you don’t transfer virus to your mouth, nose, or eyes, where it can enter your system.

And it means staying home when you yourself are sick, even mildly—COVID-19 can cause mild symptoms that may be mistaken for other illnesses.  Taking social distancing measures is especially important for protecting those most vulnerable to severe disease from COVID-19, including older adults and those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, and conditions that suppress the immune system. 

Public Transportation

For those who have to commute each day still: If you see someone cough or sneeze near you on the bus or train, and you’re more than 6 feet away from them, your risk is probably low, says David Freedman, M.D., a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

If an obviously sick person is right next to you, it’s a bit trickier.  “I’m concerned about this sort of profiling of people who are coughing and sneezing,” says Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., a professor of biology at Simmons University in Boston and an expert in home and community hygiene. “On the other hand, we need to be smart.” 

Here’s how. 

Change your commute time.  If you work in an industry where you still need to commute for work or you live in an area where local travel is not restricted, try to adjust your work hours, if possible, to less busy times. 

Clean your hands as soon as possible after your trip.  Surfaces in a public transit setting most likely to harbor the virus are those that are most commonly touched, Scott says, such as the bars you hold on to for balance on the train or bus. 

While it might in theory make sense to wipe down those surfaces with a disinfectant before you grab hold of them, it’s not always practical.  “It’s impossible to take action on every surface that you come in contact with,” Scott says. 

But you should wash your hands as soon as possible after leaving your bus or train.  A thorough rub with a hand sanitizer makes sense.  Even more important is thorough hand-washing—20 seconds with soap and water. And avoid touching your face with your hands, to keep any germs you might have picked up from getting into your system.

Consider other forms of transportation.  Another option is, when possible, to walk or bike to your destination instead of taking public transport.  And if you opt for a rental bike or e-scooter, follow the same precautions as with public transportation, carefully washing your hands after each use.  “The virus is not going to jump off the handlebars and jump into your mouth,” Freedman says.  Instead, cleaning your hands after you touch the handlebars or any other potentially contaminated surface is probably the best strategy, he says. 

TheRide Takes Further Measures to Promote Social Distancing
Signs Separating Riders Reduces Bus Capacity to 15 Riders 

ANN ARBOR, MI –  The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (TheRide) has announced additional social distancing measures in an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19. To adhere to Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21 which temporarily suspends activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life, TheRide reminds the community to ride the bus for essential trips only.
 
TheRide’s social distancing measures include:

  • Signs that encourage riders to keep six feet between each other have been placed on seats in each bus, placed on benches, buildings and shelters at the Blake and Ypsilanti Transit Centers
  • Each bus has a yellow line on the floor that marks a 6-foot distance between the driver and riders
  • Each bus is now considered to be full when 15 riders are on board. Once there are 15 riders on board, the driver will contact a dispatcher to send another bus to serve remaining passengers along the route.       
  • Riders, if able, are to board from the rear door, unless they need to use the ramp
  • The Blake Transit Center, Ypsilanti Transit Center and TheRide’s front desk at 2700 S. Industrial are temporarily closed
  • No fares are being collected

 
In addition to the above steps to promote social distancing, TheRide is operating on a reduced schedule. For the most up to date route information, visit TheRide.org or call 734-996-0400.
 
“We remain dedicated to getting essential employees to their jobs and to help our community make essential trips to the grocery store or pharmacy,” Bryan Smith, Deputy CEO of Operations at TheRide said. “We ask that those that do not need to travel for essential reasons to stay home. In addition, we ask those that must travel do so while respecting social distancing guidelines.”
 
In addition to social distancing measures, TheRide is also taking extra precautions for their staff and riders:

  • All vehicles and facilities are being regularly cleaned and high-touch areas disinfected with protocols as recommended by the CDC
  • All staff continue to receive a supply of sanitization supplies and are encouraged to follow the CDC’s hygiene guidelines
  • TheRide has instituted social distancing among employee work environments, with many staff working remotely, all business travel canceled, and in-person meetings discouraged

 
TheRide remains dedicated to the health and safety of its riders and employees and reminds riders and employees of healthy habits from the CDC:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home when you are sick, if possible. This helps prevent spreading your illness to others
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Wash your hands often to help keep germs away. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
  • Wear cloth face coverings in public settings

 
The latest information on TheRide’s routes, schedules and detours is available in the Ride Guide, at (734) 996-0400 and on TheRide.org.

 

Matt Carpenter, CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority
Credit TheRide

About Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter, a Tennessee native, has over 15 years of professional experience in the transit industry, including eight as the successful CEO of Strathcona County Transit.  Previously, he worked for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments in Detroit. He holds a Master in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan. 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu