Developing a Plan for Shuttle Return
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the parking and transportation industry in countless ways. Corporate offices once filled with hustle and bustle have mostly turned into ghost towns, resulting in a significantly decreased need for shuttle and transportation services. So, what’s next for the future of shuttles? As pharmaceutical companies race to distribute vaccines, a vision of life returning to normal draws closer. According to research conducted by Gensler, only 12 percent of people want to continue to work from home full-time after the pandemic subsides. This indicates that occupants will be returning to offices in record numbers and forward-thinking operators will be prepared for the influx of shuttle passengers. Now is the time to develop a plan so that when workers return, they can be met with seamless and safe transportation options.
As building occupants return, shuttle riders will undoubtedly be hyper-aware of cleaning measures taken (or not taken).
Identifying Rider Concerns
Public distrust in the safety of ridesharing has increased due to COVID-19. Studies conducted by CarGurus and the IBM Institute for Business Value found that of the 26,000 American adults surveyed, around half have developed a distrust for ridesharing services. Public transportation numbers have taken a hit, as well. According to data collected by the National Transit Database, monthly public transit ridership is down 65 percent compared to 2019. As a service that traditionally economizes rider travel, it’s understandable patrons would be wary of returning to shuttle usage.
According to a survey conducted by the Yale Center for Consumer Insights, top shuttle safety concerns include the potential of the virus living on surfaces and the close proximity of riders to one another. It is important to note that within the same Yale study, researchers found that safety messaging on shuttles plays a critical role in rider confidence. In scenarios where the shuttle bus did not have safety messaging, only 27 percent of participants were likely to ride the shuttle, compared to 53 percent that were shown messaging with images displaying preventative health measures. Passengers will also likely be wary of waiting in groups for shuttle arrival, which means clear social distancing markers should be installed prior to reopening.
New Rules and Regulations
According to the Milken Institute, the societal effects of pandemics tend to be long-lasting, often unfolding over years, if not decades. It is likely that as a society, we will continue to be hyper-conscious of the safety and cleanliness of our surroundings for the foreseeable future. Shuttle services returning in 2021 will mean indefinitely tailoring operations to fit post-pandemic life. What was once a process filled with pressing buttons, sitting close to other riders, and touching shared surfaces will need to pivot to a near-contactless experience. The CDC recommends that operators implement plans to effectively communicate with passengers entering the bus regarding modifications to work or service processes. Other safety recommendations include using curtains or plastic walls to establish physical barriers between transit operators and passengers. Shuttle operators should be trained to effectively enforce social distancing onboard. Tactics such as blocking out every other seat onboard the shuttle can also play a big part in enabling social distancing.
An emphasis on driver safety is equally important to passenger wellbeing. Providing transit operators the opportunity to wash their hands with warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds throughout their shifts will be crucial not only to keeping riders safe, but ensuring shuttle drivers stay healthy. In addition to the enforcement of face coverings for passengers, operators should be required to wear appropriate face coverings and other PPE while on the shuttle.
Prioritizing a Clean Environment
As building occupants return, shuttle riders will undoubtedly be hyper-aware of cleaning measures taken (or not taken). Operators must make disinfecting a top priority, for the safety and peace of mind of passengers. Safety-conscious riders will take notice of an increase in cleaning frequency. Before using a disinfectant on bus surfaces, check to make sure that your product is EPA-approved to kill COVID-19. You can visit the EPA’s List N Tool page to search approved disinfectants. In addition to operator cleaning efforts, adding touch-free hand sanitizer stations and strategically placed trash receptacles is a way to ensure passengers do their part to keep each other healthy while on board.
According to the Federal Transit Administration, high-touch areas like benches, handrails and poles must be disinfected at least once per day. Shuttle passengers might expect disinfection to be even more frequent than this, like once a loop. In addition to surface cleaning, the CDC recommends using vents and windows to bring in fresh air, rather than using the recirculated air option for shuttle ventilation.
What to Expect Going Forward
When it comes to selecting a shuttle transportation provider, look for a program that is customized to fit your facility’s needs. It is vital your provider understands and meets the increasing demands of keeping shuttles clean. Make sure to thoroughly research providers to make sure they both ensure a safe and timely shuttle service and address the inevitable concerns of passengers.
Due to the decline in ridesharing, many commuters may opt to drive solo while those with whom the solo drivers once carpooled, may opt for shuttle use. Facility operators need to be confident their selected shuttle service provider can deliver consistent, quality service at scale until the threat of COVID-19 becomes less prevalent.
While COVID-19 has been the major concern in recent months, the reality is that it is only one of many viral pathogens for which must be watchful; the need for thorough cleaning and disinfection is here to stay. With this in mind, anticipating an ongoing expectation of cleanliness and disinfection will ensure that businesses are prepared to offer shuttle and other services well into the future, while keeping their customers, visitors and the public feeling safe.
Because nothing about the pandemic is certain, it is important that facilities managers take on a fluid approach to returning to the workplace. Be prepared to have a moving start date and be willing to pivot if necessary. Choosing a provider that is flexible and willing to work with your needs will be vital in determining the success of your reopening.
Stan Bochniak is vice president, national parking sales for ABM Industries. He can be reached at Stan.Bochniak@abm.com.