L.A. Metro system to stay operational as ridership dwindles amid coronavirus outbreak

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Los Angeles Metro officials assured residents Friday that its bus and rail system will remain operational — with some precautionary changes — even as ridership dwindles amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We have no plans to shut down our transportation system,” L.A. County Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO Phillip Washington said, adding that the system is a vital lifeline in the city that provides transport for essential workers on the frontlines of the outbreak.

The transportation system will undergo some changes to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, including canceling some trips, having trains run less frequently during peak hours and adjusting late-night service on rail lines on Friday and Saturday nights.

“We are operating with caution, but we are not operating from a position of fear,” Washington said.

Ridership on the L.A. Metro system dropped about 50% to 60% over the past week, even before Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered the nearly 40 million residents of the nation's most populous state to stay at home, according to Washington.

Angelenos stopped flooding into underground metro stations and filling buses as schools closed down, universities moved online and bars and other entertainment venues shut their doors.

About 550,000 people used the public transportation system on both Monday and Tuesday this week, compared to the usual 1.2 million who board on weekdays, according to L.A. Metro.

Washington said construction on major transportation projects will continue, but the agency will be strained financially in the long run due to the sharp drop in ticket sales and the decreased revenue from sales taxes.

To contain the spread of the virus, the agency will begin installing and increasing sanitation stations and access to hand sanitizer at major transit stops and stations, as well as trying to get hand sanitizer dispensers on buses and trains.

Health experts have urged residents to wash their hands frequently and advised that "social distancing" is the best tool to slow down the spread of the viral respiratory illness in the absence of a vaccine.

L.A. County Department of Public Health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer has said those who take public transit should be cautious and wash their hands before and after getting on a bus or train.

The health department on Friday announced 61 new COVID-19 cases in L.A. County, bringing the total to 292 patients, two of whom have died from the disease.

Washington emphasized that none of the 11,000 L.A. Metro employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and that the agency is also taking precautions to protect its workers.