Isn’t it great to imagine the return of “normal”? It’s coming for Metro riders.
Having sharply reduced service and staffing during the pandemic, Metro officials now are readying for higher demand when school populations return to normal and downtown businesses call workers into the office.
“They are expecting a major return in August,” said Jim Archer, director of service planning and scheduling for Metropolitan Transit Authority.
That means Metro will spend the spring and early summer hiring bus operators and mechanics as it prepares to resume full service even as many realities of mass transit remain uncertain.
One looming concern is how to meet rising demand as daily trips increase from about 125,000, based on February numbers, to the 280,000 or more Metro carried prior to the COVID pandemic, while still providing for social distancing.
The issue is one of space on buses, if existing distancing requirements remain. Buses that could ferry 40 seated riders now have available space for 16.
As a result, meeting pre-pandemic demand under COVID conditions would be impossible with Metro’s fleet of approximately 700 40-foot buses and 90 60-foot articulated buses.
“There is a point at which we run out of buses and run out of operators,” Archer said.
Metro officials said it remains unknown how many drivers and mechanics the agency would have to hire and when they would be needed.
“Our operations team is still evaluating what ‘normal’ service will look like in August, given the many public health protocols that will, no doubt, still be in place,” Metro spokeswoman Tracy Jackson said.
August is targeted both as a reasonable point at which to expect a significant level of vaccinations, and thus maybe offices opening again, and also because it’s when school starts up. It’s hard to say exactly how much bus service will be needed – Metro has basically been running weekend schedules for the past year – but it’s safe to say that it will be more than what is needed now. No matter how you look at it, it sure is nice to think about.