TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– Results from a new Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit survey shows that face masks are vital in making riders feel safe when using public transportation.

More than 200 people responded to an informal online survey TCAT launched back in June. The goal of the questionnaire was for TCAT to gauge what safety protocols give riders enough confidence to ride a public bus during the coronavirus pandemic.

Respondents were asked to judge each safety measure on a scale of one to six –– with one being the most important and six being the least. Out of those 200 people that answered the survey, 133 or 67% gave strict enforcement of the face-covering mandate the highest ranking.

TCAT has been requiring both riders and bus drivers to wear masks or face coverings since April, per an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and supplied drivers with masks to hand out to riders in need.

The other safety measures were ranked with a one in the following order:

  • Continue strict daily disinfection regiment of the entire fleet, 29%
  • Limit each bus to 20 riders, 23%
  • Strictly enforce social distancing on the bus, 19%
  • Install physical barriers, 14%
  • Alter infrastructure (sidewalks, roadways) surrounding bus stops to promote social distancing, 10%

In addition to the face-covering policy, TCAT has adhered to routine fleet disinfection, has limited each bus to 20 riders to allow for social distancing and required riders to sit as far apart as possible while in transit.

TCAT is also in the process of procuring Plexiglas-type shields to be installed next to the driver’s seat to enable the agency to resume collecting fares. TCAT ceased fare collection starting in April –– a policy that has been extended through Sept. 5, to minimize contact between riders and drivers, who are seated directly next to the farebox.

TCAT said in a press release that they intend to start installing temporary barriers until permanent shields can be delivered for installation which they estimate will happen in October.

Additionally, at this time TCAT has no plan underway to change or ask for infrastructure changes in or around bus stops. Instead, TCAT employees are posting signs to remind riders to practice social distancing while they wait for the bus. 

Notably, the survey responses also indicate a steep decline in those choosing to use public transportation. 64% of respondents said they stopped using the transit system completely and 18% said they drastically reduced their number of trips.

As for the reason that riders have decided to stop or reduce their usage 26% said due to their employers’ stay-at-home directives, 20%, said fear of contagion, 17% said they took advice from government/ medical professionals not to use public transportation,16% said due to school closing and remote learning 16% said due to the closing of their entertainment and shopping venues and 4% percent said they were laid off or furloughed from work

TCAT says their ridership plunged by more than 90% in mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic escalated in the state and when the first cases appeared in Tompkins County. Ridership has since recovered somewhat and is now down to around 80% of what it normally is during the summer service period.

TCAT will begin its fall season on Sunday, Aug. 30 with more service to accommodate the return of students. Details on fall service will be available here.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com