Operating a public transit system under the constraints of a pandemic and navigating the impacts has been a challenge. Currently, about 34% of our front-line staff are off work due to COVID-19-related issues. Thankfully, we have not had anyone on the job test positive. We know transit employees at other systems have tested positive. Sadly, many agencies have reported serious illnesses and deaths among their co-workers.

The pandemic has required all of us to make changes in our lives and adapt quickly. We are working hard to stay informed and provide a safe travel experience for our customers and a safe work environment for our employees.

We spent the first two months of 2020 fulfilling a community goal and kicking off a zero-fare demonstration project. Our community responded by increasing ridership significantly and telling us stories about how they were getting to work, school and accomplishing errands utilizing this easier and faster system. Then, starting in March, we had to do a quick pivot encouraging people to limit their travel as much as possible to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

Ridership did start to decline, particularly with Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order closing all but essential businesses, but we continued to have trips that were overcrowded and did not allow for proper social distancing. For a time we ran additional shuttles in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding and not leave essential workers and those with essential trips waiting for the next bus. Unfortunately, this approach did not work either. Waiting for the next bus, which could also be full, left riders stranded instead of getting them to work and their appointments on time or allowing them to complete their essential tasks.

We found that not everyone was honoring the request to limit their travel. Some were riding without a destination (which our Rider Rules do not allow in the best of times) and some were “playing” on the system running between and transferring from bus to bus and riding continuously, without a destination. The results of this behavior not only caused others to miss their essential trips, but it also placed our customers, our employees and those individuals themselves at risk. When we tried to curb that activity, we were met with increasingly aggressive and hostile behavior. We cannot tolerate that kind of behavior, nor will we subject our riders or our employees to that kind of behavior. In addition, amid this escalating situation, we had people shot at while attempting to replace a broken second-story window at the Olympia Transit Center. 

The status quo service delivery model wasn’t working so we needed to be creative in an attempt to better support the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, get people where they need to go and better ensure the safety of our riders and our employees.

As an agency, we have over 30-years of experience managing an advanced reservation system to schedule rides. We continue to partner with non-profits, social service, governmental, religious organizations, individuals, and businesses, just like we always have, to ensure people can complete their essential travel. We have experience working with vulnerable populations and people who either do not have access to, or have limited experience with, technology. Individuals and groups are providing supportive services so if people can’t schedule for themselves, they can get help. We have already scheduled close to 400 advance reservation rides from a cross-section of our community and we will continue to schedule them as people call. We also have agreements with multiple community groups to access our Community Vans program to serve the needs of their clients.

We realize change is hard. Decisions to reduce service and change our service delivery model were extremely difficult for us to make. We are working hard to accommodate essential travel needs and keep people safe. Many thanks to all of our customers who have shared their appreciation to us for looking out for their best interest.

If you or someone you know needs to make an essential trip with us, call 360-786-1881, email DALdispatch@intercitytransit.com or use the fillable form to schedule a trip which is located on our website at intercitytransit.com/bus/essential-trip. We are taking reservations 2 to 5 days in advance of scheduled trip dates. These changes to service start on Monday, April 13.

If you would like additional information, please visit intercitytransit.com/COVID-19-response, where you can also find answers to frequently asked questions. And if someone you know needs assistance, please do the neighborly thing and step up to offer to help them schedule a ride. We need everyone to work together to get through this pandemic safely.