“It’s hard to determine when normal, pre-covid-19 operations will return,” Arlington Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers said.
What is certain is that riding transit will look and feel different. There are new rules requiring masks and social distancing, and systems have implemented more stringent cleaning practices. Most systems now require riders to board through rear doors, for example.
“Passengers are required to wear face masks or coverings for the protection of riders and operators,” Rivers said. “Rear-door entries and exits will remain in effect while all area transit systems work together to determine how and when front-door boarding and fare payment will be reinstated.”
Some systems, including Virginia Railway Express, are promoting social distancing by designating a share of the seats unavailable for use. Metro says it can’t guarantee social distancing, but it is emphasizing a mandatory mask policy on buses and trains and in stations.
“It is likely that this policy will remain in place until there is a significant change in the transmission profile of covid,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
Here is what you need to know about the transit operations in the District, Maryland and Virginia as they begin to ramp up following coronavirus lockdowns:
Metro to reopen stations and add bus capacity
Metro continues to operate on a reduced schedule. Only a select number of bus routes are active daily, trains are less frequent, and service ends earlier. More than two dozen stations and station entrances remain closed, either because of the pandemic or as part of a summer-long platform rebuilding project.
Metro said it is planning to expand capacity to some bus routes this month and increase bus service levels again in August. An announcement on the reopening of some Metro stations that closed at the onset of the pandemic is expected later this month.
Planning also is underway for service on special dates that generally draw crowds to the District in the summer, including the Fourth of July, as well as for a planned Aug. 28 protest that organizers say will draw as many as 100,000 people to the nation’s capital to push for criminal justice reform on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington.
This year, Metro said, it may be more difficult to know how many people to expect for Independence Day celebrations. Federal officials have yet to announce plans for festivities at the Mall, which each year includes fireworks that draw thousands of spectators. President Trump has also pushed for a large gathering, despite objections from local officials.
Metro said in the event of festivities downtown, people should consider options other than Metro.
“Crowded trains before and after the fireworks will likely not have the space for anyone to maintain social distancing standards,” Stessel said. “While face coverings or masks are required, each individual must assess their personal tolerance for risk. For some, this may be the year to consider walking, riding a bike, renting a scooter or watching it on TV.”
Metrorail runs between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. The frequency of the trains depends on the line and the day of the week. Red Line riders can expect trains every 15 to 20 minutes, while trains on the other lines arrive every 20 to 30 minutes.
Nineteen stations remain closed because of the pandemic, though Metro said it will announce some reopenings later this month. Those stations closed to save cleaning resources to combat the novel coronavirus and protect employees from potential exposure. About half of those stations are less than a mile from another station, and the rest are closed because of low ridership.
The closed stations are: Archives, Arlington Cemetery, Cheverly, Clarendon, Cleveland Park, College Park, East Falls Church, Eisenhower Avenue, Federal Center SW, Federal Triangle, Greensboro, Grosvenor-Strathmore, Judiciary Square, McLean, Morgan Boulevard, Mount Vernon Square, Smithsonian, Van Dorn Street and Virginia Square-GMU.
In addition, Metro has closed entrances at nine stations that have multiple entry points.
Besides the covid-19 closures, all nine Orange and Silver Line stations west of Ballston are closed through Sept. 7 for the transit agency’s multiyear platform reconstruction project. There is no Silver Line service as the system prepares to connect the first phase of the Silver Line with the second phase of the rail extension under construction. Additional work will affect travel on the Green and Yellow lines through mid-July.
Buses are operating on a modified Sunday scheduled on most routes, meaning only 116 of the system’s 325 routes are operating. Start times vary per route, but generally all buses end service at 11 p.m. daily. On weekends, the number of routes is limited to 27 critical bus corridors only. Riders are required to wear face coverings and to enter and exit the bus via the rear door. People who use wheelchairs can board via the front door.
Arlington's ART to add two more routes
As of this week, only half of ART’s 16 routes are operating. Buses are running about every 30 minutes and following a Saturday schedule. Routes 72 and 75 will be added on June 29 to increase north-south connections across the county on weekdays.
ART is operating extra buses to reduce overcrowding, officials said, as buses have a capacity to carry 8 to 12 passengers maintaining social distance.
By late summer, ART plans to return to the weekday schedule on all routes while still maintaining social distancing rules.
“This increased level of service is directly dependent on return-to-work policies and large numbers of people using public transportation,” Rivers said, noting that large employers are indicating plans to continue to allow telework at least until the fall.
Riders are required to wear masks aboard buses and use the rear door to enter and exit.
Alexandria's DASH operating on enhanced Saturday plan
Alexandria’s bus system is operating on an enhanced Saturday schedule. The King Street Trolley and routes AT2X and AT6 are suspended until further notice.
DASH has suspended fares on all buses to allow users to use the rear door to enter and exit.
Fairfax Connector watching ridership to ramp up service
Fairfax Connector, Virginia’s largest bus system and the D.C. area’s third largest, is operating at about 70 percent capacity, with most of the impact on commuter routes. About 40 percent of the system’s 91 routes are operating regular schedules; 14 routes are on reduced timetables; and nearly 40 routes are still suspended.
“The timing of the return to full service has not yet been determined,” said Robin Geiger, a spokeswoman for the county’s transportation department. “Our transit team is monitoring ridership and preparing to return to full service with health and safety with our passengers and drivers as our first priority.”
Connector riders are also required to wear masks and use the rear door to enter and exit until further notice.
Montgomery's Ride On adding more buses in July
The region’s second-largest bus system, Ride On, added more bus routes earlier this month. Fifty-three routes are now operating, and plans are to increase frequencies on those routes in early July.
Service levels remain at 45 percent of normal, and the county says that will increase to 50 percent next month. Officials said more buses will be added to help maintain social distancing aboard as demand grows.
Ride On is also reincorporating service to some bus stops that had been temporarily eliminated, and the county may consider adding more service this summer as demand changes, said Hannah Henn, spokeswoman for the transportation department.
The Bethesda Circulator and Silver Spring Van Go (Route 28) also resumed service earlier this month, providing transportation to those commercial districts.
Ride On is requiring passengers to board and exit through the rear door and to wear masks. Ride On has supplied about 7,000 cloth face coverings to riders since late April.
Prince George's has social distancing seat markings
Sixteen of TheBus’s 28 routes are operating this month, on an hourly basis.
Prince George’s transportation officials say the restoration of the county’s bus service is being closely coordinated with Metro and is dependent upon rising demand.
Passengers this summer will notice protective barriers and social distancing seat markings on buses; they will be required to continue to enter and exit via the rear doors and use face coverings aboard. Only passengers with wheelchairs are allowed to enter through the front door.
The agency is conducting a survey to gather information on how to improve service after the pandemic. Public feedback is still being accepted.
OmniRide resumes Express buses
On Monday, OmniRide will resume operation of all Express routes, which provide service between Prince William County and major work hubs in Northern Virginia and the District. The routes are operating on Friday service levels.
Passengers on the Express buses won’t have the cash option to pay their fares but can use a SmarTrip card. OmniRide’s Metro Express and local buses have continued to operate at regular service levels throughout the pandemic, and fares are suspended to minimize interactions between bus operators and riders.
Face coverings are required by a state order.
VRE restricts where passengers can sit
Northern Virginia’s commuter rail system is operating on the “S” service plan. It has four D.C.-bound trains in the morning and four southbound in the evening on both the Fredericksburg and Manassas lines.
VRE is using decals on train seats to direct riders to take a window seat in every other row and ensure proper distancing. That means only about a third of the seats on each train are available. Station platforms also have decals in place to encourage passengers to maintain social distancing while they wait for trains.
VRE is installing hand sanitizer dispensers on trains and in stations and is enforcing the state order mandating face coverings aboard trains and on all public transportation.
Passengers can use the VRE app to purchase tickets. The app allows commuters to buy, validate and display tickets on their smartphones.
As demand for service increases this summer, VRE said it may lengthen trains or add more to maintain the social distancing measures.
Maryland's MARC operating on special schedules
MARC commuter trains earlier this month expanded service to operate on an “R” schedule. Riders have access to at least one restroom on each train to wash their hands. All passengers are required to wear masks.
Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Paul Shepard said there are no plans to change service or implement seating restrictions aboard trains. The state is requiring all transit users to wear masks.