CUTA: How transit systems are responding to COVID-19

May 6, 2020 Josh Triantafilou

Transit authorities across the country are taking measures to protect staff and the public while ensuring service delivery during the COVID-19 outbreak. We spoke with McCartney Lee, Communications & Public Relations Coordinator at the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) to get their insights into what these measures are and the broader impact of the pandemic on transit systems.

Service Delivery

While transit is considered an essential service, it’s useful to understand how transit authorities themselves are delineating essential and non-essential functions. As Lee points out, “Essential service includes front-line public transit operators and supply chain workers needed to support critical infrastructure. Non-essential public transit employees have been directed to work from home.”

As one might expect, social distancing has significantly affected ridership patterns and transit systems are responding accordingly. “Public transit systems across Canada have had to adjust and reduce services to Saturday schedules where appropriate. This is due to rapidly declining ridership numbers as Canadians adhere to physical distancing recommendations and avoid all non-essential travel,” says Lee. 

Keeping Essential Workers and the Public Safe

Social distancing is a crucial tactic for reducing the spread of COVID-19 and transit authorities have taken measures to facilitate this. The pandemic, “has led numerous transit systems to ramp up service during peak travel hours to promote safe physical distancing,” says Lee. Further, Custodial workers and essential retail store employees rely on transit to get to work. They deserve good levels of service so they can get home to family and do so on vehicles that allow for safe physical distancing.” Lee also notes that “transit systems are implementing rear door boarding on vehicles to minimize contact between passengers and operators and are closing off certain seats to encourage physical distance between transit users.” 

Transit users of Esri software should know that they can leverage Tracker to keep track of where field staff, such as drivers and maintenance personnel, are and have been to help your organization facilitate social distancing. Collector and Survey123 can also help to reduce person to person physical contact by replacing pen and paper record keeping with data collection in the field using mobile devices.

Transit systems have also increased their cleaning and disinfecting procedures and are providing front-line staff with hygiene products, such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. As Lee informs us, “On average, transit systems are incurring four times the normal costs of cleaning and disinfecting vehicles as a result of COVID-19. CUTA is calling on the federal government to place transit systems on the priority list for procurement of cleaning agents, disinfectants and PPE equipment for operators, and reimburse transit systems for the costs of these unforeseen expenses once the pandemic is over.” 

Public Engagement

As a service that interacts directly with the public, it is important for transit agencies to effectively communicate with their users. “Following municipal/transit agency pandemic management plans and local public health advice, several systems have been using communication screens to remind passengers of ways to practice safe physical distancing, engage in proper hygiene and prevent transmission. These guidelines are also being communicated to the public through system websites, social media channels and mobile applications. Transit systems are also placing strategic signage on certain seats to indicate that they are closed, in order to encourage physical distancing between passengers,” Lee points out.

We should also let Esri users know that they can leverage ArcGIS Hub to facilitate communication, collaboration and data sharing both with their customers and partner organizations. 

To learn more about how transit systems can effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can access CUTA’s COVID-19 guidance and resources page here or reach out to directly to McCartney Lee—see contact details below.

McCartney Lee 
Coordinator, Communications and Public Relations 
416-365-9800 ext 127 
CUTA – Canadian Urban Transit Association 


Explore COVID-19 resources at esri.ca/COVID19Canada. To strengthen business continuity, Esri is providing Coronavirus Business Continuity Solutions at no cost. Contact your Esri Canada account manager if you have an ArcGIS account. For new users, please request assistance through the Esri Disaster Response Program.

About the Author

Josh Triantafilou

Josh Triantafilou is a marketing specialist with Esri Canada. He makes it easy for people to find and evaluate products and services relevant to them. Josh is interested in the power of GIS to make sense of the world and affect meaningful, positive change within it.

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