Public transportation is a lifeline getting medical professionals, pharmacists, grocery store clerks and other essential workers to their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During times of uncertainty, communication with the public is key. It needs to be clear. It needs to be frequent. And it needs to be easy to find. From early on, The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) made the commitment to provide data-based updates every single day. BART is finding solutions by being transparent in posting ridership and financial data to bart.gov and on social media. The information detailed how the number of people per train car can easily allow for 6 feet of distance. Posters inside stations in multiple languages using pictograms also urge social distancing.
Behaviors changed rapidly and extensively. Once public health officials began communicating about COVID-19 in the region and several high profile companies announced employees should work from home, ridership plummeted. Then the shelter in place orders came. BART's daily ridership went from 417,000 to 31,000 in a period of 4 weeks.
Much of the ridership loss is attributed to shelter-in-place orders. However, part of the impact is clearly from adherence to the messaging. If you're sick, don't ride BART. If you're an essential worker and need to ride BART, you can do so safely.
Ridership and financial data provide a metric the entire region can use. It shows people are sheltering at home and it shows the number of essential riders that depend on transit to get around. The data can be used by everyone to advocate for more transit funding.
BART also worked to dispel rumors that there were plans to shut the service down.
This candid and clear communication will be essential once BART is past the immediate COVID-19 crisis, and the focus turns to rebuild transit ridership and continually show its value in keeping the Bay Area moving.