MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (BCN) — Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit and Ferry will relax social distancing requirements on all rides in Marin County and San Francisco starting Wednesday. Transit vehicles will now only need to have 3 feet between passengers instead of 6 feet, though all riders are expected to keep their masks on.
The policy, described as “much needed” by the agencies’ joint news release, comes after the agencies’ bus capacity was at less than 50 percent for all rides since the beginning of the pandemic. As case numbers for COVID-19 drop throughout the Bay Area, more people began taking public transit, and the strict capacity limitations meant riders were increasingly being passed up.
The transit agencies feel comfortable in proceeding with their new policies earlier than the state’s June 15 reopening date. Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, spokesman for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District, said that ridership is not predicted to spike exponentially after Wednesday. “The vast majority of the district’s customers are commuters from the North Bay traveling to jobs in San Francisco, so until we see a broad reopening of offices and businesses in the region, customers are unlikely to return in any significant numbers,” Cosulich-Schwartz said in an email.
Golden Gate Transit’s approach throughout the pandemic has been to prioritize the routes used by service workers. The agency suspended about 90 percent of commuter bus services for office workers, which also cut around 50 percent of their bus service. As more commuters return to in-person work, the agency will bring back more bus and ferry routes in increments.
Robert Betts, director of operations and planning for Marin Transit, said that their changes in capacity are consistent with other reopening strategies in Marin County and are meant in part to accommodate children who depend on public transportation to get to school.
“We’ve seen continued growth in ridership since the end of the statewide shelter in place orders in January and accelerated growth with the return of students to in-class instruction. This continued growth in ridership has led to an increase in passenger pass-ups, impacting access to transit services for student and other riders,” Betts said.
Now, almost all Marin Transit and Golden Gate Ferry routes will have a 50 percent capacity for all riders. The only exceptions for the policy are Routes 101, 72 and 40 on Golden Gate Transit, which go beyond Marin County and San Francisco.
Both agencies still plan to prioritize transit operator safety despite the change in protocol. All passengers are asked to stay 6 feet away from their driver.
“Continued separation of 6 feet will be maintained between passengers and drivers onboard the vehicle through signage and other markings on the bus,” Betts said. “We have also installed driver barriers and made vaccinations available to the workforce to further protect our front-line workers.”
Any passengers in need of trip-planning assistance are encouraged to visit the agencies’ websites at marintransit.org and goldengate.org.