Green Mountain Transit adapts to COVID decline in bus ridership

Not as many people are riding the public buses this year -- but Green Mountain Transit leaders and doctors say that's a good thing.
Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 8:00 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Not as many people are riding public buses this year because of the coronavirus, and Green Mountain Transit leaders and health officials say that’s a good thing.

Green Mountain Transit officials say rides are still free and they are confident they can provide them safely, especially with the health guidelines they have been working under for almost a year.

“If you’re healthy and need a ride, we are here to provide it for you. With the ultimate goal of keeping everyone as safe and healthy as possible and try to promote people’s confidence in getting back on the bus,” said Jon Moore, the general manager of Green Mountain Transit.

While they are down about 50% of normal ridership in the past year, Moore says they have learned good practices to keep their buses safe. It starts with disinfecting at the end of all shifts. On top of the mask mandate, they encourage adequate distancing and they have installed hand sanitizer stations they ask riders to use. And he says riders have also learned that individual responsibility is also key.

“Wearing your face mask, not riding when you’re sick or showing symptoms and as possible spacing yourself on our vehicles,” said Moore.

He says while they are still encouraging people to only ride for essential travel, now is the time to attempt to rebuild trust in the use of public transportation.

“We are confident that we can do it safely. We do still have occupancy limits in place, so no more than 18 passengers on at any given time. We are still asking you to be smart with your travel and essential travel should be prioritized. We have put the protocols in place to keep people safe, but that social distancing is still a requirement,” said Moore.

“It is natural to feel a little nervous if you can’t avoid being in a tight, enclosed space with someone outside your household,” said Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease doctor at the UVM Medical Center.

He says while the risk of infection on public transit isn’t zero, the measures in place to lower risk are a good start. And even as vaccination numbers go up, and COVID cases come down, that isn’t the time to loosen those measures or let your guard down.

“We need to stick with the rules as they are because we don’t really know if the vaccines lower the risk of transmission yet,” Lahey said.

The doctor says even a year into the pandemic, we are still learning more daily and that it’s crucial, especially in higher risk areas, to keep ourselves and others safe.

“Investing now in these measures we are all super tired of is a way to make it, so that sooner rather than later we can start to hang out a little bit more like normal,” Lahey said.

In a statement, the Vermont Department of Health said there have been no known cases associated with public transportation.

“Transit agencies have been doing a good job overall with establishing policies and adapting their seating and requirements such as mask-wearing to protect their passengers and drivers,” the statement said.

Lahey says whether it be a bus, plane or train, public transit will likely have the safety policies in place the longest. While companies like GMT are preparing for when riders come back, the riding experience will likely still be altered for a while.

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