TransLink asking people to wear face masks, implements new physical distancing measures

With more people heading back to work as B.C. begins to slowly reopen its economy, TransLink says it is looking to grow a culture around wearing face masks on public transit.

“We are recommending that customers wear face coverings while on transit and while waiting for transit,” said spokesperson Ben Murphy on Thursday.

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“What we really want to do is grow this culture around wearing a face covering while on transit."

That recommendation is one of several new measures announced by TransLink Thursday, as the transit authority starts to ramp up service levels in response to the province entering Phase 2 of its Restart Plan. In recent weeks, TransLink saw an 83 per cent decrease in ridership due to the coronavirus pandemic, and has cut or reduced service across the region. 

The messaging also comes a day after Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said that face masks are now recommended in situations where it’s not possible to maintain physical distancing, such as in stores on or transit.

Murphy said TransLink will be installing signage encouraging the use of masks, and the benefits of face coverings, in stations and transit vehicles. The transit authority is also looking at partnerships with some groups to potentially be able to distribute face masks to those who don’t have their own, said Murphy.

TransLink will also be limiting gate access at its busiest stations, to help manage the number of people on the SkyTrain system – which includes the Canada Line.

Those stations will have a maximum of two entrance fare gates, while the other fare gates will be set to exit only. Down the line, said Murphy, the system could expand to less busy stations. Decals have also been installed to help people maintain two metres of physical distance while waiting in line.

“We want to try to slow the amount of people coming onto platforms and therefore slow the amount of people coming onto SkyTrain cars,” said Murphy, although he warned that physical distancing might not always be feasible.

“This has been a real challenge for transit, because transit is not typically designed for physical distancing.”

According to TransLink, the fare gate policy will begin next week at King George, Surrey Central, VCC-Clark and Lougheed stations, and TransLink will monitor boarding levels at other stations, and "gradually implement" the measure at other stations over time, if necessary. 

TransLink will also be ramping up sanitization measures on all modes of transit, said Murphy. This includes deploying cleaning “pit crews” to high-traffic stations, to disinfect train cars and high-touch surfaces. Meanwhile, bus and SeaBus disinfecting spray schedules will be doubled to twice a week.

As of Tuesday, TransLink said service on the Expo and Millenium lines was up to 90 per cent of what it was pre-COVID-19, and will be moving to 100 per cent next week, while the SeaBus has resumed sailings every half hour. The transit authority will also be restoring bus service on routes that were suspended in April.

The Canada Line will continue to operate at close to pre-COVID-19 service levels.

“Thousands of essential workers have relied on transit every day during the pandemic and many of our customers will return over the coming weeks and months,” said CEO Kevin Desmond in a statement.

“We’re committed to keep our system running and making it widely available to the people of Metro Vancouver as they go back to work, to school, and to moving around the region.”

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