Metro considering COVID-19-related service cuts, but no changes yet

Metro is cleaning trains and buses daily now, and is planning for the potential of service cuts if there is a spike in employee sick days, illnesses or other regional disruption.

“We are evaluating potential options for reduced or alternate service,” Chief Safety Officer Theresa Impastato said Thursday.

Metro is also identifying and prioritizing critical functions and reviewing procedures.

The renewed steps were triggered by the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic and the increasing number of cases of the new coronavirus identified in the D.C. region since testing began to ramp up.

The transit system for the D.C. region still encouraging riders to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer on a regular basis and ask riders to avoid the system if riders are sick.

After convening a pandemic task force in late January, Metro bought extra cleaning and protective supplies last month and later last month increased cleaning efforts.

Those were phases one and two of a four-level plan, Impastato said, which included tracking worker sick days and ridership. Phase two includes the daily cleaning, coordination, and the expansion of drills to practice for more significant disruptions.

Metro has also increased emailed and other warnings to workers and riders, and put safety signs on digital add boards like, “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands,” and CDC safety signs.

If the plan moves to “phase three,” there could be service changes. “Phase 4” would be recovery and restoration of services, so “phase three” is essentially the final stage of the plan.

Metro is cleaning buses, trains and MetroAccess vans daily now, with sanitizing wipes and doing other weekly cleaning. In stations, frequently touched surfaces are being disinfected daily.

On Sunday, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 told its workers that Metro was giving union members permission to wear gloves and masks, but only if the workers provide their own due to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Through the first part of the week, Metro had not yet seen a significant drop off in ridership, but that is expected to change, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said.

He expected Thursday could see more significant declines given D.C.’s state of emergency and President Trump’s speech Wednesday night.

For now, Metro is not planning any significant service changes, but that will change if there are broader public health issues or ridership declines.

“The coronavirus situation is rapidly changing,” Metro Board Chair Paul Smedberg said, citing warnings that up to one-third of Americans could contract the virus.

On the roads, the Virginia Department of Transportation had also not seen a significant drop in traffic on major roads like Interstate 95 as of Wednesday morning, but WTOP Traffic began to notice significant changes Wednesday afternoon in parts of the region.

The District Department of Transportation and Maryland’s State Highway Administration did not immediately have traffic counts available Wednesday.

Amtrak and airlines have seen more significant declines in use due to COVID-19 concerns. They are likely to scale back service in coming days, weeks or months.

Milestone for Loudoun

The Metro Board also conducted regular business Thursday, including the swearing in of Supervisor Matt Letourneau as Loudoun County’s first-ever voting representative on the Metro Board.

The milestone is especially significant amid ongoing delays for the opening of the Silver Line to Loudoun County and Dulles International Airport.

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