Messages from the Council Chair

COVID-19: We’re prepared, and you can help

March 2020

Charlie ZelleThe Met Council is playing a key role in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. Metro Transit is one of the largest gathering points for people in our region. With more than 250,000 weekday rides on 125 routes served by nearly 1,000 transit vehicles, Metro Transit enables people to get to work, school, doctor appointments, and countless other places.

Well before the first cases were reported in Minnesota, the Met Council had developed plans and procedures to maintain vital operations, not only for transit, but our wastewater treatment system, our housing authority, and Metro Mobility. Thousands of our neighbors, friends, and family members are counting on us to maintain transit service because they don’t have access to a vehicle or the ability to work from home.

The regional transit system is a critical part of our overall transportation infrastructure. Like roads and bridges, our transit infrastructure is designed to continue operations in bad weather and through eventualities like pandemics. And with your help, we can keep offering efficient service during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s impossible to foresee every contingency in a situation that’s changing daily. But we have planned for this kind of situation, we’ve trained for it, and we’re in it for the long haul. Here’s how we are keeping transit up and running for those who depend on it most.

First and foremost, we are working closely with state and local public health officials and coordinating with other state agencies to minimize the risk of exposure to our riders and employees. The primary tool for minimizing the spread of COVID-19 is the practice of social distancing. Wherever possible, employers are asking people to work from home. Celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day parades are being canceled or postponed, and Gov. Tim Walz has ordered schools closed until March 27. In line with this strategy we are asking our riders to limit their travel to essential trips.

This is having a direct impact on our region’s transit service. A robust economy had already created a driver shortage at Metro Transit, but it is more difficult to maintain full staffing on all shifts as our drivers are forced to stay home due to illness, school closings, and other factors. For the time being we are suspending nighttime service on Metro Transit trains and uses from 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. This will ensure our system is fully staffed and operating when most people need it.

That additional system downtime will also provide more opportunity for enhanced cleaning and disinfection. A disproportionate number of biohazard incidents (up to 60%) occur overnight. Biohazards can create unhealthy conditions in regular times; during a pandemic event, those health concerns increase.

Metro Transit police officers will continue their overnight shifts and assist other jurisdictions as needed.

Meanwhile, we are working to amplify the most important messages about limiting exposure to COVID-19:

  • Regularly and thoroughly washing hands

  • Coughing/sneezing into a tissue or a sleeve

  • Staying home when we feel sick

No amount of cleaning can contain the virus if people do not take these precautions.

Many of our riders do not have access to a vehicle. They cannot simply choose to stay off the bus. We have a commitment to these riders to continue providing transit service.

Likewise, our 21,000 Metro Mobility customers are dependent on the door-through-door service we provide because they are not able to drive or use regular-route transit. In many cases, Metro Mobility customers have health conditions that render them more vulnerable to COVID-19. We are following the Minnesota Health Department’s lead in asking these riders to schedule only necessary trips so they limit their risk of exposure.

Transit is a part of our community. It connects people to jobs, entertainment, friends, and family, and it’s a place where people from all walks of life gather. We’re all eager to get back to our more regular activities in community. But for now we need to work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Updated information about our response to COVID-19