Transit, COVID-19, and YOU

This great nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidential Inauguration, March 4, 1933

Background

Right now, our world is in the midst of a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  To say how this has effected all human activities – work, civics, education, recreation – throughout the world is an understatement.  So much so, Bay Area counties like Santa Clara County have issued a “shelter in place” order up to April 7.  However, this has since been superseded by Governor Newsom’s California state-wide order to “shelter in place” indefinitely, until further notice.

Read on for news on what’s going on transit-wise in Silicon Valley that’s been affected by COVID-19.  Also included: more on YOU can do to stop the spread of COVID-19, and where to get help if you need it.  Use this guide as a supplement on how COVID-19 has affected Santa Clara County so far.

These transit agencies – and all others nationwide – have experienced severe ridership drops and deep losses in fare box revenue.  More on what YOU can do to address that will be in a separate post.  Transit service reductions due to “shelter in place” from COVID-19 will be noted for each listed agency, as circumstances warrant.

WARNING!
If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or have COVID-19, STAY HOME.  If you must travel, DO NOT RIDE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION! Instead, take specialized medical transportation to and from the hospital or health clinic.  This helps prevent you and others from spreading COVID-19.

When riding the bus or train, make sure that you’re at least 6 feet (1.5 meters) away from other people when riding any bus or train, or at a bus stop, or any passenger rail platform.  See our Transit Etiquette Guide for more details on how to behave toward others when riding public transit.

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Transit Effects

From VTA

Note that all service changes and policies VTA has made and are listed below will last until further notice.  We have sent a written request to VTA asking how much they have lost in terms of ridership and fare box revenue as of this post.

On March 16, the following service changes from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) took effect:

This affects school trip bus line service for

  • Willow Glen High in San Jose
  • Milpitas High School
  • Gunn High in Palo Alto
  • Independence High in San Jose
  • Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill

Otherwise,

As of March 17, all VTA transit services (bus, light rail, paratransit) are FREE to use.

As of March 19, all able-bodied riders must board VTA buses from the rear door(s).  The exception to this: if you are senior or disabled, and require use of the front-door ramp to board the bus.

On Monday, March 23, VTA will suspend service on the 500 bus line between San Jose Diridon Station and San Jose State University (E. Santa Clara/6th).  VTA recommends passengers ride the 64A, 64B or 68 bus lines as alternatives.  (We also recommend the 22 or 522 Rapid, which you can catch at W. Santa Clara/Cahill bus stop, as alternatives.)

An inquiry to VTA management revealed these ridership and fare box revenue statistics during the COVID-19 pandemic as of March 23:

From mid-February we have seen a ridership decline of about 56%. We estimate that this will result in a loss of fare revenues by approximately $3 million per month.

As Of Monday, March 30…

On Monday, March 30, until further notice, VTA will further reduce service and frequencies on several bus lines.  One example is the 60 bus line linking Milpitas BART station, Mineta San Jose Airport, and Winchester light rail station:

Examples of how VTA will make the following services reductions, eliminations and suspensions on March 30, until further notice:

  • VTA will stop all bus and light rail service at 9pm.  One exception to this: the 22 bus line, which will continue to run 24 hours/day, 7 days a week.
  • As for VTA express bus lines: only the 104 (Penitentia Creek to Stanford Research Park) and 181 (San Jose Diridion to Warm Springs BART) express buses will still run.  The 122, 182, and 185 express bus lines will be permanently eliminated.  All other express bus lines (101, 102, 103, 121, 168) will be suspended until further notice.
  • Bus service on the 20, 31, 37, 52, 83, 86, and 87 lines, and the 200 shuttle bus line.

Read up on a matrix of specific VTA service frequencies effective March 30, until further notice.  The March 30 service changes page VTA has features a map of hospitals, shelters, and food banks near bus and rail lines.

VTA Light Rail Service

VTA is currently running light rail service on all three lines (Blue, Orange, Green) from 6am-6pm Monday-Friday.  Service on all lines will have 30-minute frequencies on all lines, until further notice.

For More Information…

VTA’s in-person Customer Service Centers in downtown San Jose and River Oaks are closed until further notice as well.  Their email (customer.service@vta.org) and telephone (408)321-2300 are still available and staffed at these hours:

  • 7:30am-7pm Monday-Friday
  • 7:30am-4pm Saturday
  • Closed Sundays

This schedule is in effect until further notice.

More on how VTA is working to clean and disinfect its vehicles and their drivers from COVID-19 – and how YOU can help – is detailed in this post.

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From Caltrain

On Tuesday, March 17, Caltrain will stop running its “Baby Bullet” express trains for the time being, as many riders are staying home.  Here’s why:

As of March 19, Caltrain has suspended a planned fare increase for Clipper Card users, until further notice.

On Monday, March 30, and until further notice, Caltrain will further reduce weekday service.

The modified weekday schedule will operate 42 trains per day, rather than the usual 92. Trains will make all local weekday stops between San Jose and San Francisco every 30-60 minutes, depending on time of day. Caltrain will continue operating two Gilroy service trains during the morning and afternoon peak commute. Limited and Baby Bullet service will be suspended until further notice.

Officially starting April 22:

More information will be posted here as facts warrant.

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From SamTrans

Like VTA, SamTrans has suspended school trip bus service throughout San Mateo County.  They are still operating regular weekday and weekend bus service system-wide.

For some employers at Oracle and Electronic Arts, shuttle bus service to these and other companies below have been suspended as of March 17, until further notice:

Per SamTrans, they have already lost 19% of their average weekday ridership since COVID-19 containment began nearly 2 weeks ago.

As of March 25, SamTrans has implemented its own policy of FREE transit fares rear-door only boarding on its buses…

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From Capitol Corridor

As of March 21, Capitol Corridor will reduce its schedule such that five (5) round-trip trains run between Sacramento and Oakland; with four (4) of them continuing to San Jose Diridion.  Separately, this has affected how connecting bus service from San Jose to Monterey and Santa Cruz will run.  The two sections below have more information.

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From Santa Cruz METRO (Highway 17 Express)

A summary on how METRO will serve the public in Santa Cruz County:

  • Starting Monday, March 23, while all Santa Cruz METRO buses (including the Highway 17 Express) and paratransit (ParaCruz) have FREE fares, they will run on a weekend schedule 7 days/week.  That means buses throughout Santa Cruz County will run less often, start later, and end earlier.  This is until further notice.
  • Just like with VTA, able-bodied passengers must board buses thru the rear doors, to help keep the driver safe.  The front door (and ramp) of all METRO buses will only be available for seniors and disabled who cannot physically board thru the rear door.
  • Local school-term bus service in Santa Cruz County is also suspended until further notice.
  • Santa Cruz METRO paratransit (ParaCruz) will only prioritize trips for those going to doctor’s appointments or paralysis.

While METRO Customer Service will be available by phone at (831)425-8600, its staffed transit centers in Santa Cruz (Pacific Station) and Watsonville will be CLOSED until further notice.

As of April 15, those wishing to ride the Highway 17 Express bus must have proof of being an “essential worker” (employee photo ID or doctor’s note) to receive priority boarding.

As of April 22, a Santa Cruz County ordinance also requires face coverings while in the county, and on all buses, including the Highway 17 Express.  All of this is until further notice.

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From Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST)

Here’s what MST had to say about service on the 55 and 86 bus lines during the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place:

The 55 bus line links San Jose to Monterey via Prunedale.  The 86 bus line links San Jose with Prunedale, Salinas, and points south along U.S. Highway 101 to King City.  Both bus lines connect with Capitol Corridor trains at San Jose Diridon Station.

As for all other MST bus lines, they will be FREE to ride, until further notice.  This includes the 78 bus line from Santa Cruz to Monterey and the Presidio of Monterey.

Ride any of the buses to the Presidio of Monterey? See this note from MST, effective March 26 (Thursday) until further notice:

These particular bus lines serve the Presidio of Monterey.

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From BART

Starting Monday, March 23, the BART system will close at 9pm instead of midnight.  Regular train frequency on all lines will be the same.  On weekends, starting March 28, the BART system will run from 8am-9pm.  Read up on this and other BART-related service changes here.

That summarizes how the COVID-19 Pandemic and subsequent “shelter in place” have affected ridership and revenue at BART.

As of April 22, BART requires face coverings to ride the system.

Early morning shuttle bus service was changed by BART as of April 27…

More information will be provided as facts warrant.

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Other Transportation Agencies

In Mountain View, MVgo shuttle bus service has been suspended until further notice.

In Palo Alto, the Embarcadero Shuttle has made changes to reflect Caltrain’s reduced schedule. Changes are in effect until further notice.

Take or know someone who’s taking Greyhound? Read up on how Greyhound is dealing with COVID-19.

Take or know someone who’s taking Megabus?  Megabus is running with reduced seating.  Read more on what Megabus is dealing with COVID-19.

As for MUNI in San Francisco:

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Transit Alerts During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As long as the “shelter in place” order remains in effect, plan any transit trip you take before riding.  Be prepared for bus and light rail route cancellations as drivers must stay at home to care for themselves and/or family members who must stay home to avoid COVID-19.  Thru @svtransitupdts on Twitter, we will do our best to inform you which VTA bus lines or light rail have been delayed or cancelled due to driver shortages.  Here’s how YOU can help alert us and others of broken down or no-show public transit service in Silicon Valley.

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What Can I Do To Help Beat COVID-19?

You’re already doing some of that now.  In particular, by staying home if you are not feeling well, and thoroughly washing your hands when you come home, before and after you eat, and after you come into your job. If you must leave home, make sure it’s to your essential job, for exercise, or to get needed supplies, preferably once a week.

Also, share your spare supplies (toilet paper, hand sanitizer) with your neighbors. Consider your neighbors who don’t have the physical ability (elderly and/or disabled), or money to get prepared.  One day, you might need them to help you out with an issue.

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What Must I Become To Help Beat COVID-19?

More than ever before, we have to help each other. Does any of the information in this post offend you, leave you triggered, or cause you to lash out in any way? If so, ask yourself:

  • Is what I’m doing helping me get well, or avoid being sick myself?
  • Is what I’m doing helping to prevent others from getting sick themselves?
  • Am I helping those less fortunate than me get what they need to stay healthy and safe?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, reconsider your role in this global pandemic. Make sure you’re the one that’s helping, not hurting, yourself and others. If you’re not sure how, here are some tips that show you how. One example of being neighborly and helpful to others is documented in this video at Winchester light rail station:

Note how the worker who is helping to disinfect the light rail station makes a few minutes to help someone in need, without question or hesitation.

Need another example? These people in Sunnyvale are helping the elderly get needed groceries:

Finally, make sure to stay informed on the latest on what’s closed and what’s open during this crisis.

If at all possible, consider volunteering some where to help those that are in need.  Visit serve.ca.gov and sign up for more information.

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Where To Go For Financial and Other Help

For some people, staying at home during the “shelter in place” means lost income.  Here are some places to go for financial help.  Many of these places are also looking for your donations as well.

Are you any type of creative like a performing artist, musician/nightlife worker or visual artist? Are you a writer or an author? Are you in the LGBTQ+ or BIPOC communities? KQED has a list of emergency funds for you to look at and donate to.

From the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency, here’s a worker (employee) and employer guide to support services and resources.  From 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, call them at (916)653-9900 for more information or questions.

Are you a bartender, bar back, or cocktail server who needs financial assistance? Apply for the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) Bartender Emergency Assistance Program (BEAP) here.  You need not be a USBG member to apply.

Have children at home? Do those children go to a public school?  Check with your child’s school district for their schedule in distributing free breakfast and lunch children during the COVID-19 “shelter in place.” One example of this in the Palo Alto Unified School District.  Another example is in the San Jose Unified School District.  A third example is the Gilroy Unified School District.

Here are more resources for help with finances, food, and health care for those who live in San Jose, and those who live in the rest of the Peninsula and South Bay.

An article in the Mountain View Voice has tips on how to apply for and receive help from the Santa Clara County Government.  The article also has information on help for renters in Mountain View.

If you or someone you know is homeless and on the streets, here are more resources from an article in San Jose Spotlight that you can contact to get shelter and help.

More will be added as information warrants.

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Conclusion

Let’s first thank our transit drivers, mechanics, and other personnel who are keeping the buses and trains moving during this pandemic.  Without these people, those who work at essential retail, service, or even government jobs cannot get to and from work, thus further crippling our economy.

Let’s also thank those working in the retail and service, and government sectors of our economy whose job involves being around others, help keep groceries stocked, or must work outside.  Without these people, our world will have more trouble working for everyone.  The next time you see these people, make a few seconds to thank them personally.

Please stay safe and sane – wherever you are.

Eugene Bradley
Founder, Silicon Valley Transit Users