In the midst of the mass closure of businesses in the state of Maryland, public transportation soldiers on for the time being.
As of Friday, March 20, all 16 routes of Charles County’s VanGO public transportation service are running as scheduled. This includes connections to similar services in the counties of Calvert, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s. However, to minimize the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, VanGO will only allow a maximum of nine riders per bus.
Even under normal circumstances, public transportation can become a hotspot for spreading infectious diseases such as the coronavirus, with multiple riders sitting in a densely-packed and often poorly-ventilated space.
Health officials recommend that citizens stay at least six feet apart to prevent spreading the illness, which is nearly impossible on a bus which is at least half-filled.
A notice on Charles County’s government webpage advises riders to use VanGO for “essential travel only.”
“Essential travel means taking trips to work, hospitals, health care providers, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, food distribution centers, schools, to provide care for family members, and other similar destinations,” reads the VanGO Alerts and Notices page. “By reducing unnecessary travel, transit becomes safer for those who depend on it, especially essential healthcare workers, and for those who operate it.”
According to Charles County Chief of Transportation Jeffry Barnett, ridership has decreased accordingly, and VanGO will adjust its current services to meet demand if necessary. However, no plans have been made yet for how the service will react in the event of a total lockdown order, as has happened in at least six states as of Monday afternoon.
“Operations staff are reporting as normal and we have enough drivers to operate any transit service that is needed by the public,” said Barnett. “Morale is good and our staff is well prepared to continue delivering this essential county service.”