Transportation Update: Sound Transit offers free fares, Community Transit reduces services

In response to the ever-changing COVID-19 outbreak, transit agencies have been updating procedures in recent days to ensure rider safety.

Sound Transit announced Friday that it will suspend fare requirements on buses and trains starting Saturday, March 21, until further notice to help protect transit employees and riders through social distancing.

Sound Transit also said that ST Express passengers — other than riders using mobility devices or the boarding ramp — will board and exit buses through rear doors whenever possible. Front areas of buses will be limited to ADA passengers and will increase separation from drivers.

 “The safety of our riders and employees is our top priority,” said Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit. “During this difficult time we are taking all the steps necessary to protect public health while maintaining service throughout all service hours. We are committed to serving every customer who continues to depend on our service to get where they need to go.” 

The suspension of fares and the new bus boarding policy follows the decision to temporarily reduce service on Link, Sounder and ST Express buses operated by King County Metro in light of drastically reduced demand, with ridership currently down nearly 70%. 

Depending on staffing availability, further ridership reductions and/or government directives related to COVID-19 could impact service further as the regional response continues. During this period, resources regularly used for fare enforcement will shift to continuing to maintain a strong security presence on trains and at facilities and to assisting riders.

Downtown Seattle light rail service will be replaced by shuttle buses this weekend during work to wrap up Connect 2020 construction. Additional information can be found here. Riders should sign up for rider alerts to ensure that they receive up-to-date information about service changes, or visit the website.

Service changes for Sound Transit’s express bus service taking effect March 21 include minor schedule changes to ST Express Routes 511, 512, 513 to Seattle to improve on-time performance. Some stops and signage will also change. 

Also Friday, Community Transit approved a plan to reduce most bus services by approximately 25% starting Monday, March 30, due to a decline in ridership.

Earlier the week Community Transit’s total boardings were down 57.3% compared to last month, with commuter service to downtown Seattle and University of Washington down 79.9%.

“The impacts from this pandemic are leaving us with difficult decisions to make,” said Community Transit CEO Emmett Heath. “Given the current ongoing decrease in ridership and possible future staffing shortages, our desire is to have a solid plan for our communities while caring for our employees. We feel this decision will help achieve those goals.”

More details regarding service reduction will be released early next week. Key highlights are expected to include:

  • Commuter service, including routes to Seattle, University of Washington, and Boeing will see greater service reductions to more closely match ridership.
  • The span of service hours and frequency of trips will be reduced on each route. There will be longer gaps between trips but all routes will provide at least one trip in each direction for all of our communities.
  • The service reductions are being planned to minimize impact on customers and allow the agency to respond to any possible staff shortages in a predictable manner.
  • All Community Transit buses will remain fare free until further notice.
  • All Community Transit buses will board and exit through the rear doors only. The front door will remain accessible for ADA customers only. The front 10 feet of all buses will be available for bus drivers and ADA customers only.

Earlier this week, community transit began offering free rider fare after four bus drivers were reported to have tested positive for COVID-19.

Community Transit spokesperson Mary Beth Lowell said the Snohomish County Health District has assigned a disease investigator that is looking at any potential close contact the drivers may have had with riders. According to the health district, close contact is defined as spending 10 or more minutes within six feet of an individual.

“In the event public health determines anyone was in close contact with these individuals, we will support them in the notification process,” Lowell said.


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