GRTC stops 'high contact' fare collection for 'social distancing' during COVID-19 crisis

Posted at 4:48 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 17:40:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- GRTC will suspend fare collection and enforcement starting Thursday as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials with the transit authority announced Wednesday afternoon.

Officials said that includes Pulse, local and express commuter bus routes as well as all CARE services with the exception of CARE On-Demand.

“In continuing service during this state of emergency, our first priority remains the safety, health, and financial well-being of our employees, their families and our riders," GRTC Chief Executive Officer Julie Timm said. "By eliminating close interactions at bus fareboxes, we can better implement social distancing by avoiding interaction in this high contact space.”

In addition, GRTC has added an extra Pulse bus so riders can more easily spread out since the Pulse line still has high passenger loads despite an overall decrease in riders, according to officials.

Passengers are being asked to enter and exit through the rear doors and sit behind the accessibility-reserved seating area since front-door access will only be allowed for passengers needing the boarding ramp or operator assistance to board.

"ADA accessible seating space near the front of the bus is reserved for individuals in mobility devices, individuals in need of special assistance and families with children in strollers," officials said.

Timm said "GRTC provides lifeline employment and health connections for many of our riders" and the agnecy is "closely monitoring updates on the COVID-19 virus spread in Virginia so that we may continue to take all reasonable precautions to address the risk and to maintain core service for the critical mobility and economic needs of our community."

Officials said bus operators, cleaners, mechanics and other staffers "are taking every reasonable precaution to protect themselves and each other while serving the public" and have doubled how often they clean all vehicles.

"I maintain a high level of confidence in the safety of our service for our employees and our riders; however we are asking all riders to assist in protecting our service by eliminating all non-essential trips and following all recommended health precautions and social distancing,” Timm said.

COVID-19 in Virginia

Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said there are 77 cases COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth as of 11 a.m. Wednesday. That is up from 67 cases on the day before. The state is also investigating three outbreaks, which is defined as two or more cases that can be traced to a common exposure.

"I should also report that we have currently 65 tests. They're in the process of being run at the state lab," Oliver said. "There are probably tests as well being run by [private labs], so there will be other cases that will develop or be confirmed during the day."

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials offered the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.