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Rapid Response: Emerging Practices for Transit Agencies

As of August 31, 2020, NACTO is no longer updating this toolkit. The actions recorded on this page reflect transit agencies’ efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic between March and August 2020. For emerging city and transit agency response strategies, please see NACTO’s Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery resource or visit

Link to Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery photo library


1. Provide protections for operators and transit riders

Detroit: The Detroit Department of Transportation instituted a rear-door boarding policy and waived fees for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. To further minimize contact between frontline transit workers and riders, the seat behind the bus operator must remain empty. (3/24/2020)

VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio: VIA suspended fares systemwide to minimize interactions and help protect passengers and operators. With a fare-free policy, VIA also allowed all-door boarding to speed the boarding process and reduce crowding by the front door. (3/20/2020)

As of April 15, 2020: 45% of transit agencies have eliminated fares and 53% have transitioned to rear-door boarding. (Transit App)

See recommendations from the Disability Right Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) re Rear Door Boarding. (DREDF)

Capital Metro, Austin: Capital Metro began distributing face coverings to all public-facing employees on April 5, including staff in operations, cleaning, vehicle maintenance, security, and non-remote administration. (4/5/2020)

TriMet, Portland: TriMet began distributing disposable face coverings to frontline staff that interact with passengers and other people in waves, starting first with operators with underlying health conditions then drivers whose routes serve hospitals or other health centers. (4/3/2020)

MTA, New York City: The MTA and TWU Local 100 secured 75,000 masks to distribute to its subway, bus, and commuter rail employees. (3/27/2020)

Richmond and Portland: the transit agencies worked with local distilleries to rapidly increase their supply of hand sanitizer so that they could make more available to frontline staff:

  • TriMet, Portland: Working with two local distilleries, TriMet sourced 500 gallons of hand sanitizer, which is being used by its bus and MAX operators. (4/1/2020)
  • GRTC, Richmond: GRTC sourced more than 100 gallons hand sanitizer from a local distillery for use by frontline staff, who can refill personal bottles to use in the field. (3/30/2020)

Madrid: The Spanish Ministry of Health will be distributing non-medical masks for free at Madrid Metro stations. While use of masks is not required, it is strongly recommended by the authorities. (4/10/2020)

COMET, Columbia: To promote the safety of its passengers and operators, COMET installed hand sanitizers on all 83 of its vehicles. (3/30/2020)

BART, Bay Area: As part of its agency-wide cleaning procedures, BART installed hand sanitizer dispensers at all stations. (3/9/2020)

Metro Transit, Madison: In its initial coronavirus response, Metro Transit adjusted its schedule so each bus is cleaned between use by different drivers. This protocol protects both passenger and operator safety. (4/1/2020)

MTA, New York City: To reduce touchpoints for field staff and operators, the MTA suspended the requirement that employees use a fingerprint scanning time clock to check in and out from work. (3/10/2020)

GRTC, Richmond: GRTC purchased port-a-potties to give operators a rest stop location at the end of lines, where they would have previously visited restaurants or other businesses that are currently closed. (3/31/2020)

2. Deploy staff and transit vehicles where they’re needed most. Monitor ridership and adjust schedules to minimize crowding and maintain rider safety

Metro Transit, Twin Cities: Metro Transit is operating local routes at a Saturday plus or adjusted weekday schedule, prioritizing essential trips over express commute service. (4/16/20)

SFMTA, San Francisco: SFMTA implemented a core service plan to temporarily run only the 20% routes in their Muni Service Equity Strategy that serve 80% of riders. This allowed the agency to concentrate available resources along routes that serve essential workers, destinations, and transit dependent communities, providing a critical service during the pandemic. (4/6/2020)

SFMTA, San Francisco:  With a modest increase in available personnel, and to address crowding on Muni’s busiest routes, SFMTA adjusted its core service plan to operate 9 additional lines, increasing service coverage and offering riders more route options for essential trips. (4/20/2020)

King County Metro, Seattle: King County Metro reduced service to a core network, operating routes with fewer trips and reduced hours, but maintaining service to critical employment and service centers in the region. These adjustments were made to both provide essential trips to riders and prepare the agency for the potential of reduced workforce availability. (4/3/2020)

MTA, New York City: New York City Transit increased weekday midday, evening, and weekend service on neighborhood bus routes in Brooklyn and Queens to mitigate crowding and allow riders to safely socially distance. (4/29/20)

Miami-Dade County: Miami-Dade added trips to busier routes and maintained routes serving hospitals, grocery stores and other essential locations at near-normal service levels.

METRO, Houston: To create more space for social distancing on board its vehicles, METRO added a shuttle route to service the Texas Medical Center, where one-third of employees commute by transit. The shuttle has five stops and uses METRO’s 40-foot local buses. (3/20/2020)

CTA, Chicago: The Chicago Transit Authority is monitoring ridership and feedback from riders, deploying longer, 60-foot buses or staging extra buses that can quickly go into service to pick-up riders that might have been passed up. (4/9/2020)

Miami-Dade County: Miami-Dade Transit suspended late night Metrobus service due to low-demand and replaced it with a fare-free service offered in partnership with Uber and Lyft. The program provides rides from midnight to 5am for people making essential trips along existing route alignments. Pick ups and drop offs are permitted within a quarter mile of the routes. (4/9/2020)

3. Ensure room for sufficient social distancing – on vehicles & at transit facilities

RTA, New Orleans: RTA is installing protective Plexiglass barriers on its entire bus fleet to protect drivers. The barriers were designed and constructed in-house by RTA staff. (4/9/2020)

TriMet, Portland: TriMet installed yellow markers on the floor of buses, six feet behind the driver, designating the updated line behind which passengers boarding through rear-doors must stand. (3/31/2020)

WMATA, Washington, DC: WMATA closed the first and last train cars of its 8-car trains to protect operator safety. Despite low ridership, the other 6 cars remain open to encourage social distancing. (3/29/2020)

King County Metro, Seattle: King County Metro is installing dividers on buses to physically separate the front area, where the bus operator works, from the general passenger area.  (3/26/2020)

LA Metro, Los Angeles: To help isolate and protect bus operators, Metro is requiring them to use the preexisting transparent barrier when on board buses. (3/22/2020)

King County Metro is installing “safety straps” on its buses to separate riders and drivers and reinforce social distancing. (King County Metro). More examples of operator barriers are available in the Transportation Response Center Photo Library

CTA, Chicago: The Chicago Transit Authority is monitoring ridership and feedback from riders, deploying longer, 60-foot buses or staging extra buses that can quickly go into service to pick-up riders that might have been passed up. (4/9/2020)

BART, Bay Area: To give essential riders more space for social distancing, BART is running long trains and encouraging passengers to use all cars. (4/8/2020)

WMATA, Washington, DC: WMATA is operating its 8-car trains to reduce crowding. While the first and last cars are closed for operator safety, the other 6 cars remain open to encourage social distancing. (3/29/2020)

CTA, Chicago: CTA issued rider limits for its buses, allowing no more than 15 passengers on a 40-foot bus and no more than 22 passengers on a 60-foot articulated bus. (4/9/2020)

VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio: VIA implemented a “safe capacity” limit on its buses, making 16 passengers the maximum number allowed at any time. (4/7/2020)

TriMet, Portland: TriMet limited maximum number of allowed passengers on buses to 10-15 people, with 15 allowed if people are traveling as couples or with children. (4/2/2020)

Metro Transit, Madison: Metro Transit reduced capacity on all fixed-route buses to 15 passengers. (3/17/2020)

CTA, Chicago: Once their bus reaches its rider limit, CTA authorized its drivers to bypass stops and operate as “drop-off only” until safe passenger levels are again reached. (4/9/2020)

Port Authority, Pittsburgh: If a bus reaches its passenger limit, Port Authority instructed its drivers to not pick up new passengers until other exit. (4/9/2020)

VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio: Once a VIA bus reaches its 16 passenger limit, operators are instructed to display a “At Safe Capacity” sign and call Dispatch to request an additional bus along the route. (4/7/2020)

SFMTA, San Francisco: SFMTA bus operators are permitted to skip a stop if their vehicle reaching the maximum number of recommended passengers. (3/20/2020)

Miami-Dade County: Miami-Dade installed floor markings at all Metrorail stations to remind passengers about good social distancing practice. (4/13/2020)

Transport for London, London: Transport for London installed blue stickers every two meters apart in busy stations, clearly communicating safe social distances for people using the system for essential travel. (4/3/2020)

TransLink, Vancouver: TransLink installed signage on around half of the seats on board buses, clearly marking seats that should be left empty to maintain safe distances between passengers. (3/26/2020)

Capital Metro, Austin: Capital Metro installed social distancing signs on every other seat to encourage riders taking essential trips to space at a safe distance. (3/21/2020)

METRO, Houston: METRO placed social distancing signs at stations and on board vehicles, where capacity was reduced by 50% to limit crowding. (3/16/2020)

Transport for London installed blue floor markings spaced at two meters to mark where to stand for social distancing. (TfL) More examples of social distancing messaging are available in the Transportation Response Center Photo Library

4. Provide clear messaging to augment citywide public health guidance & explain service changes

CATS, Charlotte: Through a video message posted to Twitter, CATS CEO John Lewis used a urged passengers to only travel if they have to, and to wear face coverings if they do. (4/9/2020)

LA Metro, Los Angeles: Metro used its blog to augment city public health guidance and tell transit riders to cover faces with masks when using transit (4/6/2020)

WMATA, Washington, DC: In a press release, WMATA announced it is running limited bus and rail service for essential travel only, underlining its messaging that people should not use transit unless they have to. (4/2/2020)

MTA, New York City: The MTA’s “Stay home. Stop the spread” campaign uses clear language and graphics to reinforce that transit should only be used for essential trips. (4/1/2020)

SFMTA, San Francisco: SFMTA reiterated the message to “stay at home except for essential trips” in a blog post announcing service changes, communicating across agency platforms. (3/26/2020)

SFMTA, San Francisco: When SFMTA had to cut and modify routes due to available staffing, the agency prioritized placing signage detailing new service patterns at stops that may have sharply reduced, or no service (4/7/2020)

King County Metro, Seattle: King County Metro regularly posts service change announcements on its blog, giving a reason for service adjustments and reductions as well as ridership impacts. (4/3/2020)

BART, Bay Area: When the coronavirus pandemic initially affected transit trips, BART made the decision to regularly post ridership statistics, establishing transparent and honest communications about the impact of the virus. (4/1/2020)

MTA, New York City: By posting year over year ridership differences from 2019 to 2020, New York City Transit achieved two things: demonstrating the sharp decline in transit trips caused by the pandemic and reinforcing that transit should be for essential travel only. (3/18/2020)

5. Bolster maintenance & cleaning to reduce virus spread

CTA, Chicago: CTA performs daily cleaning of its vehicles and rail stations–disinfecting high-use surfaces throughout–and routine deep cleaning on board its buses and trains. (3/13/2020)

NJ TRANSIT, New Jersey: NJ TRANSIT enhanced its cleaning procedures to reflect current needs, including disinfecting vehicles and common customer touchpoints daily. In large stations and terminals, disinfecting occurs every shift. (3/13/2020)

BART, Bay Area: BART’s cleaning and disinfecting procedures in its stations and trains are clearly defined and frequent, including operators disinfecting cabs twice per shift, train touchpoints disinfected at end of line stations, and station touchpoints wiped down multiple times per day. (3/9/2020)

TriMet, Portland: TriMet procured decontamination fogging devices that spray a fine mist of hydrogen-peroxide based solution throughout the bus’s interior.  The device saves time and frees up cleaning staff to focus their effort on trains and wiping down buses at the end of service. (4/7/2020)

Valley Regional Transit, Boise: Maintenance staff use sprayers and foggers to disinfect every bus before it leaves the yard, providing an extra level of cleaning and security for operators and riders. (3/16/2020)

SacRT, Sacramento: As part of its coronavirus response, the Sacramento Regional Transit District increased the frequency at which it fogs buses and light rail trains from once every three weeks to once per week. (3/12/2020)

BART, San Francisco: BART closed secondary station entrances at multiple San Francisco stations and installed multilingual signage to alert riders. All stations remain ADA accessible. (4/10/2020)

WMATA, Washington, DC: WMATA closed 19 stations across its system to preserve cleaning resources. Closed stations either had extremely low ridership or within walking distance of a different Metro station. (3/24/2020)

6. Expand protections & leave policies for transit employees

MARTA, Atlanta: MARTA is providing all Transit Union employees 80 additional hours of paid sick leave, a one-time $500 “hero payment,” and masks to all those who can’t telework. (4/13/2020)

TriMet, Portland: In a partnership with Meals on Wheels, TriMet temporarily reassigned employees from customer service roles to help deliver meals to children, families, and seniors in the Portland area. (4/10/2020)

VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio: Working with local partners, VIA is dispatching mobile hotspots to areas across the city, using vans equipped with high-speed WiFi networks to provide mobile WiFi service to students. (4/9/2020)

TARTA, Toledo: TARTA is offering hazard pay to frontline employees, including paratransit, fixed-route, mechanics, bus cleaners, and dispatch staff. The agency expects the frontline pay will be eligible for reimbursement by the federal government. (4/24/2020)

Detroit: Detroit is offering bus drivers and other frontline city employees an additional $800/month in pay. This policy will cover around 1,000 city employees; Detroit hopes the federal government will help cover the cost. (4/10/2020)

7. Use transit to support other city-wide COVID relief efforts

Metropolitan Council, Twin Cities: Metro Transit is allowing essential health workers to use Paratransit for free and schedule trips up to four days in advance with a healthcare facility ID.  (4/15/2020)

Metro Transit, Twin Cities: Metro Transit is transporting unsheltered individuals to hotels to reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19. (3/31/2020)

RTC, Las Vegas: The RTC added more pick-up locations and earlier service hours on its Silver STAR routes to increase access to essential services for senior citizens in the area. (3/30/2020)

RIPTA, Rhode Island: The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is deploying Paratransit operators and vehicles to fill in gaps in Meals on Wheels routes and address an increase in demand for food deliveries. (4/15/2020)

TriMet, Portland: In a partnership with Meals on Wheels, TriMet temporarily reassigned employees from customer service roles to help deliver meals to children, families, and seniors in the Portland area. (4/10/2020)

VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio: Working with local partners, VIA is dispatching mobile hotspots to areas across the city, using vans equipped with high-speed WiFi networks to provide mobile WiFi service to students. (4/9/2020)

Detroit: Detroit developed its own on-demand ride-hail program to connect people to a local testing site for only $2. For more information, listen to an audio briefing with Mark de la Vergne, Chief of Mobility Innovation in Detroit. (4/15/2020)

8. Explore options to continue necessary planned maintenance and construction

BART, Bay Area: BART transferred 200 maintenance and engineering employees from operating projects to rebuilding capital projects, like ongoing station modernization projects at some of the busiest stations in the system. (3/30/2020)

BART, Bay Area: To increase opportunities available to small businesses during the Coronavirus outbreak, BART is continuing essential construction projects and hosting virtual “speed-dating” sessions to expand who they subcontract with. (4/22/2020)

LA Metro, Beverly Hills: LA Metro has accelerated the construction timeline for the Metro Purple Line project temporarily closing the street to complete the work.  Local access to businesses will be maintained. (4/1/2020)