Metro experiencing staff shortages and canceled trips due to regional surge in COVID-19 cases

The number of COVID-19 cases has soared in L.A. County over the past two months. Credit: L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has exploded in Southern California over the past two months — and Metro, unfortunately, is feeling the impact on our bus and rail service due to staffing shortages. As a result, some bus and rail trips will likely be canceled each day over the next few weeks. For example, on Monday, Jan. 4, we had to cancel about 10 percent of trips.

The canceled trips are not evenly distributed among our transit system. On some days certain parts of our bus system have been hit harder than others — and some bus lines are impacted more than others. A canceled trip or two on any individual bus line is likely to result in crowding on subsequent trips.

We encourage riders to use Transit — Metro’s official smartphone app — to plan bus and rail trips and check crowding predictions. We also suggest allowing additional time for your travel.

In the past few days, about 30 percent of Metro’s bus operators have been out due to either being quarantined, caring for family members or having COVID-19. The number of positive cases among agency staff and contractors has doubled in the past month.

These impacts to transit service will likely continue until the number of COVID-19 cases decreases in our region and more employees can return to work. Other transit agencies around the region — including LADOT and Foothill Transit — are experiencing similar challenges.

We believe the increase in cases at Metro is due to widespread community transmission of COVID-19 — and not tied directly to the transit system. Metro’s increase in cases is mirroring the county and state surge in cases. 

From the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s press release Monday:

“Everyone needs to keep in mind that community transmission rates are so high that you run the risk of exposure whenever you leave your house. Assume this deadly, invisible virus is everywhere, looking for a willing host…Avoid any non-essential activity; Public Health suggests you take a break from shopping, avoid any type of gathering, and exercise by yourself or with members from your household. Currently, more than one in five people who get tested are positive, and this helps explain why there is so much risk when you socialize with people you don’t live with.”

Metro continues to provide as much room for social distancing on buses as is practical within the financial and staffing resources we have. We are trying to keep buses at no more than 75 percent of seated capacity — lower than the 130 percent standard we used prior to the pandemic.

Metro has also joined the American Public Transportation Association and transit agencies across the nation in committing to specific measures to help ensure the safe return of riders to our system. 

As part of that effort, we’re requiring all riders to wear face coverings, we’re ensuring good ventilation on buses and trains and we’ve enhanced cleaning of our system with an emphasis on high touchpoint areas. We are also protecting our bus operators by requiring them to wear face coverings, having riders board via the rear doors on buses, using plastic barriers to help shield the driving area of each bus and thoroughly cleaning buses with approved disinfectants.

Metro will continue to run as much of our planned service as we can to provide essential trips for riders. We also encourage everyone to follow local health orders and stay home as much as possible.

15 replies

  1. Public health experts recommend staying at least 6 feet apart for social distancing. Running buses 3/4 full does give everyone enough room to stay 6 feet apart.

    Most of Metro’s passengers whom I observe do wear face masks, no thanks to Metro’s management. But I take the bus twice a week to go shopping, and on every trip, at least one or two people are not wearing face masks.

    Metro cannot get its passengers to wear face masks by asking them to wear face masks, by wishing that they would wear face masks, or by pretending that they are wearing face masks. Metro must INSTRUCT its passengers to wear face masks. If a passenger is not wearing a face mask, either a Metro employee or a law enforcement officer must INSTRUCT that passenger IN PERSON, not by making the law abiding passengers repeatedly listen to some fantasy wish on a recording to wear a face mask. Metro’s drivers, while staying behind a protective shield must instruct every passenger to wear a face mask. If a passenger will not comply, the driver should instruct the dangerous passenger to get off the bus. If the dangerous passenger does not get off, the driver should park the bus, instruct the other passengers to temporarily get off, and call the police or sheriffs to arrest the dangerous passenger.

    You are welcome to post my comment publicly.. You are also welcome to share it with any employee, official, or department at Metro, at the Los Angeles Police Department, at the sheriffs department, at the county health department, in Los Angeles city government, or in county government. I haven’t been to Long Beach since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown began, so I don’t know how well the Long Beach police, nor the Long Beach Health Department
    may be enforcing public health requirements on your buses.

  2. Steve, why don’t you earn your living be becoming a novelist? You certainly have a vivid imagination, with all of the fantasy that you are telling us about Metro getting its passengers to wear face masks, and about Metro giving its passengers enough space to socially distance. You would certainly earn a good living by publishing a novel. You certainly are not earning your money right now by braying Metro’s nonsense. I repeatedly see Metro doing NOTHING to make all of its passengers wear masks, nor to provide enough space for social distancing.

    • Hi Dominick;

      I would suggest going back and actually reading what I wrote. Your summary of what I wrote is inaccurate.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. Enforce mask wearing for all bus and train station passengers. If 90% of the passengers on a bus are wearing a mask, and 2 passengers who are not wearing masks infect me with COVID-19, the 90% who are complying will be useless to me.

    If I should have to wear a mask, everyone should have to wear a mask.

    I sympathize with low-income persons who cannot afford to buy a mask, but give them a mask, don’t just neglect to give them a mask, and then lie, and say that you did provide them with a mask. I haven’t even seen one Metro employee, police officer, sheriffs deputy, security officer, or homeless outreach person offer anyone a mask, the entire 9 months that COVID-19 precautions have supposedly been in effect.

  4. Isn’t the unemployment rate high? You cant hire temporary workers looking for work? I know it requires training, but you should have some temporary workers on standby, perhaps use truck drivers or school bus drivers who may have been laid off, or other skilled people who could drive a bus under close supervision.

  5. Hi Steve,

    I have a technical question. I know that most bus runs are operating all day. Let’s say on a particular weekday, Line 78/79 Run #1 is canceled due to staff shortage, does that mean all the related bus trips for that Run #1 will be canceled for the day as well? Or, will Division 9 assign a replacement bus for this Run #1 as soon as possible to at least run some trips for the day?

    • Hi Jason;

      Let’s say the 78/79 misses a trip due to staff shortages. We do try to move staff around and run the next scheduled trip. And so on. In other words, we’re doing our absolute best to not cancel all trips for any particular line. That said, it is a fluid situation and some bus divisions are getting hit harder than others on any given day. We encourage you to use the Transit app and allow for some extra time. We’re hopeful the shortages ease soon but we have to be realistic given that health officials expect the number of cases to remain high for the next few weeks.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  6. Until the MTA starts cleaning their buses and trains after each trip , these rolling virus spreader will certainly add to this pandemic second only to hospitals. Face masks are great but they do not completely protect Bus Operators and passengers. The hand rails and seats are a source of contamenation as well that the MTA has failed to address in a proactive manner. Most buses and trains are in service for eight hours or more per day. When one multiplies the average number of passengers per trip by the number of trips that particular bus makes in one day the likelihood of infection is staggering.

  7. Not enough enforcement as far as people getting on trains and buses without masks. Officers mostly look the otheway obviously not willing to deal with it., i.e. homeless sleeping on trains/ buses with all there belongings-and no masks. Camping out on train platforms and bus shelters. Not a safe work environment and environment for people/passengers complying .

  8. Buses and trains appear to be cleaned infrequently. On layovers, bus drivers overwhelming remain on bus maskless! When I board the bus I attempt to open every window where reasonably possibl- not only should there be a mandate to require bus windows to remain open for fresh air circulation. Incredibly, overwhelming, when the bus driver notices me opening the windows the bus driver instructs me ‘to stop opening the windows’. My reply is ‘I open the windows to help protect the health of the driver, the passengers and myself!’ I also encourage the bus driver to call the police- I would like the push by bus drivers for closed bus windows to be on record. Also, the cloth seats o the buses must be a nightmare to keep hygienic- what’s the point of the cloth seat cover? And finally, to protect the driver why not retrofit the driver seating area with a enclosed cockpit-like area- think trains or jets.

  9. Stop being a reactive agency and become a proactive. Don’t know how to do that? Well, now you know why public transit in America is at the bottom of the list. You guys can’t even react in real time to a Pandemic.

  10. I have been saying that Metro refuses to frequently clean their bus and train. Now there are more than 300 employees sick out of the workforce and drivers are forced to work overtime to cover others duty, according to the news. This is what you got when you don’t deep clean the system frequently, fail to provide hand sanitizing station to riders and staffs at the station, and keep bus and train windows shut completely resulted in zero ventilation. Beside requiring face coverings I don’t see any additional measures implemented to keep your riders and employees safe during the pandemic. Now there are fewer bus and train running resulted in long wait and crowded situations, and the NextGen plan does nothing but make things worse. I suggest you provide face shield to each frontline staffs and drivers to keep them safe. I believe the Metro broad recognizes the problems, but they just ignore them and let the problems get worse. The ridership would only decline as the pandemic continues, and the recovery would take years to overcome.

    • Hi Metro Riders;

      I think it’s worth mentioning that community transmission of COVID-19 is very widespread at this time; it’s not just Metro that is being impacted but many households and workplaces. Our buses and trains have airflow systems that do provide ventilation and frequent turnover of the air — in addition to doors opening and closing. Our buses, trains and facilities are being cleaned frequently with an emphasis on high touchpoints. That doesn’t mean we can clean everything as soon as someone touches it. That’s impossible. We have reminded riders for months to frequently wash hands or use hand sanitizer and to avoid touching your face. At our workplaces and divisions, we are also working to make sure people socially distance. We are doing our best to keep the system clean and safe and provide essential trips. Our ridership has fallen by about half during the pandemic and, yes, recovery will take time.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

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