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Transit Industry Response to COVID-19

We built our COVID-19 Transit Response Toolbox with the goal of providing up-to-date, concise, and easy-to-access resources for decision makers in the public transportation sector. It is designed specifically for agencies that want to understand how other agencies across the world are responding to the pandemic.
In the past few months, IBI Group has continuously monitored the changes agencies have made to adapt to this crisis. Most agencies have now completed their transition to pandemic operations. For this reason, we will no longer be updating this website on a weekly basis. We are nevertheless continuing to monitor the situation and will make updates as new practices emerge.
Additional resources can be found here.


Summary of Practices

Messaging to Public

Agencies are keeping their customers up to date on new developments and changes. Communicating with prospective riders is essential to ensure that they understand how service changes and new policies will affect them.

Common Practices:

  • Social Media: Reaching out to riders through Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to communicate service changes and on-vehicle changes (eg. back-door boarding).
  • Website: Regularly updating service announcements on the agency website. Agencies may also create pop-ups and banners to direct riders to their COVID-19 response site from their homepage. 
  • GTFS: Regularly modifying and updating GTFS to ensure accurate information is pushed to different platforms.
  • Discouraging Non-Essential Travel: Asking riders to avoid all non-essential travel, through public messaging and/or through direct communication with riders on vehicles.

Less Common Practices:

  • Real-Time Passenger Count: Providing real-time crowding levels on buses to passengers through trip planning apps (RTC – Las Vegas, USA; MBTA – Boston, USA).

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Agencies are ramping up their sanitation practices to keep vehicles safe for riders and staff.

Common Practices:

  • Increased Cleaning/Disinfecting Measures and Frequencies: Cleaning and disinfecting vehicles, especially high contact areas, at higher frequencies.

Less Common Practices:

  • UV Vehicle Disinfection: Disinfecting the interior and exterior of vehicles using UV light (e.g. Yanggao – Shanghai, China; Krakow City – Krakow, Poland).
  • Anti-Viral Coating on Vehicles: Treating all public transport vehicles with titanium oxide-based antiviral and antibacterial nanotechnology polymer coating. (e.g. Prague Capital City Transport Company Prague – Czech Republic).
  • Assign Cleaning/Disinfecting Duties to Transit Operators: Some transit operators are being re-positioned temporarily as cleaning staff due to reduced service level and increased cleaning measures.

Protective Policies

Agencies are making changes to protect their riders and staff through social distancing policies, policies mandating personal protective equipment, and proactive health checks.

Common Practices:

  • Decreasing Vehicle Capacity*: Ensuring safe distance between riders, capacity capped at 30-50%, and no standing capacity is allowed.
  • Restricted Seating: Designating certain seats as usable to ensure that a minimum of one empty seat is maintained between each rider. This is sometimes achieved by blocking off alternating seats with barriers.
  • Rear-Door Boarding: Minimizing interactions between operators and riders by mandating rear-door boarding for all able-bodied passengers.
  • Shield and Barriers for Operators: Installing plastic shields and barriers on transit vehicles to protect operators.
  • Fare Elimination/Cash Suspension: See “Fare Policies”.
  • Face Coverings Policies for Operators: Permitting or requiring that operators use face masks/coverings while on duty.
  • Mandatory Face Coverings for Passengers: Requiring passengers to wear face masks in order use transit. Exemption to this rule may include children, disabled people, and anyone with breathing difficulties (England).
  • Self-Isolation for Staff: Requiring any staff who has come in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case to self-isolate (in accordance with best practices and most jurisdictions’ policies).
  • Hand Sanitizer at Stops/Stations: Installing hand sanitizer dispensers at stops and/or stations as a precautionary measure during and post-lockdown.

*As lockdown measures ease, some agencies, such as Land Transport Authority of Singapore, have gradually started removing social distancing stickers on public transportation. Masks remain mandatory for passengers.


Less Common Practices:

  • Mandatory Face Masks: Requiring riders to wear face masks in order to board transit (e.g. RTA – Dubai, UAE; throughout Jakarta, Indonesia; throughout Taiwan).
  • Shutting Stop/Terminal Infrastructure: Closing off terminals and/or stops to encourage social distancing while waiting (e.g. RTA – Dubai, UAE; Lincolnshire Public Transport – Lincolnshire, UK).
  • PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for Operators:Providing PPE to operators to protect workforce (e.g. STA – Spokane, WA, USA; MTA – New York City, USA; Transport for West Midlands – West Midlands, UK). 
  • Conducting Daily Health Check: Conducting mandatory health checks for transit staff before their shifts, whether in the form of surveys or temperature checks (e.g. MTA – New York City, USA; Shenzhen Transit – Shenzhen, China).
  • Testing Key Workers: Testing front-line transit operators to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by asymptomatic carriers and protect key transit workers (e.g. Transport for West Midlands – West Midlands, UK; MBTA – Boston, USA).
  • Overcrowding Button: Implementing overcrowding buttons on buses for operators to communicate vehicle capacity in real-time (e.g. MBTA – Boston, USA).
  • Encouraging Use of Traceable Payment Method: Encouraging riders to use payment methods that can be traced, such as smartcards and mobile ticketing, to pinpoint close contacts should a passenger test positive (e.g. Shanghai Transit – Shanghai, China).
  • Limiting Station Access at Busy Stations: Limiting points of access in busy stations, e.g. fare gates, to decrease crowding on vehicles (TransLink – Vancouver, BC, Canada).
  • Monitoring Crowding Levels: See “Service Changes”.
  • Using Thermal Cameras to Monitor Passenger Temperature: Installing thermal cameras to locate people with fevers (Israel Railways – Israel).
  • Providing Individual, Washable Metro Handle Straps: Selling or handing out washable, take-home straps for commuters to hand on on the subway in place of public straps (BART – San Francisco Bay Area, CA, USA).
  • Not Operating Air Conditioning Onboard: Ventilating buses using natural airflow from open windows and stopping use of air conditioning that circulates indoor air (Mersin Metropolitan Municipality – Mersin, Turkey).
  • Deploying Staff to Monitor Crowding Levels: Sending staff out into the field to monitor crowding levels on various routes or vehicles (MBTA – Boston, USA).
  • Handing out Reusable Face Masks: Distribution of face masks at busy transit stations and areas harder hit by COVID-19 (STM – Montreal, Canada).
  • Installing Temperature Self-Check Kiosks: Deploying contact-free temperature self-check kiosks to help passengers monitor their health closely (MRT – Singapore).
  • Creating New Route Map to Encourage Walking: Creating new route map detailing number of steps between each station to encourage walking between stations that are relatively close to each other (Västtrafik – Västra Götaland, Sweden).
  • Installing air-cleaning devices: Install device that filters more than 95 percent of airborne viruses and contaminated particulate matter in driver cabins (Warrington’s Own Buses – Warrington, UK).

Community Support

Some agencies are using excess staff and vehicle capacity to support their communities, for example by offering free rides to essential workers, delivering meals or groceries, or converting empty vehicles into makeshift ICUs.

Common Practices:

  • Free Transit for Essential Workers: Providing free transit to and from hospitals and other essential workplaces for essential workers (e.g. Transport for Wales – Wales, UK; Mersey Travel – Liverpool, UK; Traveline Cymru – Cardiff, UK; Transport for Greater Manchester – Manchester, UK).

Less Common Practices:

  • Free On-Demand Transit for Essential Workers: Providing free on-demand transportation for essential workers (e.g. BVG – Berlin, Germany; Pierce Transit – Pierce County, WA, USA).
  • Free Access to Other Transportation for Essential Workers: Providing essential workers with free access to agency-managed transportation options, such as bikeshare (e.g. TfL – London, UK).
  • Rent Relief: Providing rent relief to all or some tenants on agency property (e.g. TfL – London, UK).
  • Lifting Concessionary Restrictions: Removing some or all travel restrictions on concessionary passes (elders, youth, etc.) in support of those who must travel at atypical times (e.g. TfGM – Manchester, UK).
  • School Busing for the Children of Essential Workers: Providing free bus travel to and from school for the children of essential workers (Mersey Travel – Liverpool, UK).
  • Transporting Patients to Hospitals: Using vehicles to transport sick patients to hospitals, whether within a metro area or from dense regions without hospital capacity to outer regions with hospital capacity (e.g. SNCF, France; TTC – Toronto, Canada).
  • Converting Trains to Temporary Hospitals: Converting unused train carriages into isolation wards (e.g. Indian Railways, India).
  • Food Delivery: Providing free grocery pick-up and delivery or delivering meals to vulnerable people (e.g. Dallas Area Rapid Transit – Dallas, USA).
  • TNC Partnerships: Partnering with TNCs to fill service gaps for essential workers (e.g. Miami-Dade Transit – Miami, USA).

Service Change

Most agencies are responding to this crisis and the resulting drop in ridership by adjusting their service schedules. Many agencies are reducing service; some are increasing service at peak times to allow for sufficient distancing on vehicles.

Common Practices:

  • Reducing Service Level: Cutting or reducing service on select routes. Many agencies accomplish this by operating weekend schedules throughout the week, while continuing to monitor ridership to prevent overcrowding.

Less Common Practices:

  • Selectively Increasing Service Level: Increasing service frequency on certain routes and/or at certain times of the day to accommodate passengers while still following social distance protocols (e.g. RTA – Dubai, UAE; TfL – London, UK).
  • Cutting Service for Certain Modes: Eliminating certain modes temporarily due to decreasing ridership and/or lack of social distancing potential (e.g. MUNI – San Francisco, USA).
  • On-Demand/Microtransit Services: Complementing or replacing low-demand fixed service routes with on-demand services (e.g. Belleville Transit – Belleville, ON, Canada; COTA – Columbus, OH, USA).
  • Monitoring Crowding Levels and Dynamically Increasing Service: Monitoring crowding levels on vehicles and increasing service on those routes that are experiences higher crowding (e.g. TransLink – Vancouver, BC, Canada).
  • Transit by Reservation: Suspending fixed route transit and providing services by reservation only (Lethbridge Transit – Lethbridge, AB, Canada).

Fare Policy

Agencies are changing the way they collect fares to facilitate social distancing and support essential workers.

Common Practices:

  • Fare Elimination for All*: Minimizing interactions between riders and operators by eliminating all transactions.
  • Cash Fare Suspension: Limiting all fare transactions to fare card-only to reduce spread through contact; passengers without a fare card are generally permitted to ride free.
  • Fare Inspection Suspensions: Suspending fare inspections to reduce interactions and protect transit fare enforcers.
  • Free Cancellation of Transit Passes: Allowing riders to cancel long-term transit passes without penalties.
  • Free Transit for Essential Workers: See “Community Support”.

*Many agencies that previously suspended fare have resumed fare collection as lockdown restrictions ease.

Less Common Practices 

  • No Change on Bus: Not issuing change for fares purchased onboard to reduce contact (e.g. Transport for Greater Manchester – Manchester, UK; Traveline Cymru – Cardiff, UK).
  • Discount Transit Fares During Off-Peak Hours: Discounting fares for people travelling during off-peak hours to lessen crowding on public transport (e.g. Auckland Transport – Auckland, USA).

Workforce Management

Agencies are shifting around staff, assigning them to different temporary roles or asking them to work from home to better utilize them while ridership is low and to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Common Practices:

  • Splitting Workforce: Split workforce into different teams to limit employee interaction to the same population in case one team needs to be quarantined (e.g. WMATA – Washington D.C., USA).

Less Common Practices:

  • Assign Cleaning/Disinfecting Duties to Transit Operators: Some transit operators are being repositioned temporarily as cleaning staff due to reduced service level and increased cleaning measures.

Sources and Additional Information

Transit App

  • Transit App is actively gathering and compiling transit agency’s responses to COVID-19 in this document. Updates to the document are directly provided by agencies.
  • Detailed analysis of mobility trends and dashboards are available here.

American Public Transportation Association (APTA)

  • APTA is helping agencies develop a Contagious Virus Response Plan.

Union Internationale des Transports Publics (UITP)

  • UITP is assisting transit agencies in the management Of COVID-19 and has released the Guidelines For Public Transport Operators.

John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center Dashboard

  • John Hopkins University is providing up-to-date information on the spread of COVID-19 on a global scale.

How Public Transit Agencies are Responding to COVID-19 & Official Recommendations

  • An overview of official APTA, CUTA, and UITP recommendations.

How COVID-19 Spreads – Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • A summary of COVID-19 modes of transmission and risk of each mode.

List N Tool: COVID-19 Disinfectants 

  • A list of disinfectants that meet the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces.

CDC Worker Safety and Support Guidelines

GTFS Management Tool

IBI Group is offering to set your agency up in our open source Data Tools platform to create, edit, and manage your GTFS quickly, at no cost to you during this challenging time. For example, Data Tools allows you to quickly:

  • Replace all service calendars with Saturday service
  • Remove routes or trip patterns that are no longer in service
  • Add temporary shuttle service with a few clicks
  • View or check data coming out of your scheduling software with histograms showing trips per day or timetable viewers before it goes live

If you are interested, then please get in touch and let us know if you need support in editing your GTFS data to provide accurate information to your passengers.

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