As Northern Virginia prepares for phase one of reopening on May 29, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority releases its plans for the year ahead.
As the coronavirus has continued to spread throughout the DMV, people have been turning to local and federal governments, as well as community leaders, in an effort to better understand what coming back from the global pandemic will look like. WMATA is included in that group, as the transportation authority has worked with local and regional officials to outline its COVID-19 pandemic recovery plan, released to the public on May 11.
The 23-page document consists of detailed steps, all aligned with the relaxing of stay-at-home orders in DC, Maryland and Virginia, a return to workplaces and the widespread availability of testing, treatment and an eventual vaccine. According to the documented plan, service levels will gradually increase over the course of a year, and the current reduced-service schedule, as well as closures at 19 of Metro’s stations, is expected to continue through the fall at the earliest, in conjunction with the start of the school year. The main goal of the recovery plan is two-fold: to protect Metro’s workforce and its customers.
Currently, Metro is in stage three of its Pandemic Response Plan, defined as a “crisis response posture,” in a recent press release. In the coming months, the organization will move into stabilization, requesting that customers continue to only use the system for essential trips, as stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Come fall, the managed re-entry phase will occur, reopening recently closed stations, as regional business and governments scale back on teleworking and schools reopen. In this phase, Metro will try to limit passengers onboard rail cars and buses to levels that allow for the CDC-recommended 6 feet of distance between one another. This would mean that in a rail car that can hold typically about 100 passengers, only 20 people will be granted entry. In addition, WMATA will be adding markers throughout stations, platforms and vehicles to help riders properly distance.
Lastly comes recovery and resilience, where Metro will continue to ramp up service to meet demand as economic activity increases, and also analyze the response to COVID-19 in an effort to make the system safer in the future.
When creating the recovery plan, WMATA surveyed riders and conducted focus groups to determine exactly how comfortable they would be returning to the stations. According to the data, customers want to see consistent cleaning and disinfection, expect all passengers to wear face coverings and perceive riding Metro to be a higher risk than going to the local market due to limited space for social distancing. Plus, 90% of those surveyed do not have information yet from employers about future telework plans.
And, as of May 18, all riders are required to wear face coverings or masks while traveling on Metro, both for shuttle buses and railways, recommended by Metro’s Pandemic Task Force. According to a recent press release, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said, “Every person who wears a covering on Metro is helping to keep others safe, and this is especially important for Metro’s front-line employees. In the age of COVID-19, we all share a responsibility for front-line worker safety, and that’s what this is all about.”
For more on how WMATA will continue to monitor its coronavirus response, check out this opinion piece from Wiedefeld, published by The Washington Post in early May. For information on the second phase of Metro’s summer Platform Improvement Project, set to start this weekend on Saturday, May 23, click here.
For more stories on how COVID-19 is affecting daily life, subscribe to our weekly newsletters. Plus, if you’re interested in learning more about Metro’s Platform Improvement Project, check out our detailed coverage from 2019 here.