Now that’s different – What GO Transit and UP Express customers can expect as they return to using buses and trains

COVID-19 has changed the face of almost every habit and daily pattern, including seeing more people wearing face coverings as they jump on public transit. Here are some of the health and safety measures riders will notice as they begin to return to their seats. Think of it as a check-list for safe and healthy transit travelling.

We know – things have changed for us all.

For months now, it’s been just essential workers who have still counted on GO Transit and UP Express. During that time, they’ve seen dramatic changes from commutes many have counted on for years – including having more than 90 per cent of their fellow customers suddenly stay home.

The boys hold up a 'Thank you front line heroes' banner.

The Sharpe family show off a banner their family helped create to remind us all of those fighting COVID-19 on the front lines, including our transit staff. (Laurette Sharpe photo)

But in the future, as restrictions are eased in stages, some of those riders will anxiously begin returning and they will also see their familiar trains and buses but a service that is a markedly different than the one they once used. At first, they may notice a smaller number of fellow passengers with many wearing face coverings or perhaps a change in schedules. Then they will see small and big shifts in everything from where they usually sat, to interactions with transit staff.

They may not be able to see the faces of staff operating buses and trains, or assisting them in stations — their smiles masked by face coverings to protect those around them. Our frontlines have continued to work every single day throughout this crisis adjusting to the new reality for all of us.

Customers will have to become familiar with their train or bus, all over again – changing some habits, while still looking to GO Transit and UP Express to get them where they need to be safely.

Metrolinx News has reported on many of the health and safety measures brought in since COVID-19 locked most of us at home. As the virus hasn’t just vanished, new strategies will be implemented – as they will be across every major sector of our society as we adapt to the new normal.

“We are committed to keeping you—including those of you too anxious right now to return to using public transit—informed, updated and reassured that we are doing whatever we can to protect your health and safety aboard our system,“ said Metrolinx President and CEO Phil Verster.

“For all of us at Metrolinx, safety never stops.”

Phil Verster is seen checking his temperature.

Metrolinx CEO and President, Phil Verster, checks out a health kiosk inside Union Station. (Metrolinx photo)

We thought we’d include many of the obvious changes returning customers will see, all in one story. They represent what’s been done, and what is now underway. It’s all to protect the health – and peace of mind – of every customer and every member of our staff.

Central to all decisions, on every measure, has been the guidance of public health officials. Metrolinx has been a leader since the virus began circulating, and has implemented more than 40 health and safety measures since January 2020. The province has issued a guidance document for transit agencies and those recommendations are in place. It won’t stop there – more measures are underway.

These are some of the changes those returning will find, as they once again look for their trusted ride to work – as well as elsewhere – and back home again. And while we know there are many bullet-points to comb through, each is important to customers and staff who want to know about the changes that have taken place.

Crews clean a car train.

Metrolinx has introduced a number of ways to keep customers, heading to essential work, safe and healthy. In this image, crews disinfect a GO train. (Metrolinx photo)

On our trains:

  • Distributed reusable cloth face coverings, face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer to all frontline staff.
  • You will see staff between trips doing additional deep cleaning and disinfecting on all coaches.
  • Applied a long acting antimicrobial germ protecting barrier on trains, buses and stations.
  • The seats behind and in close proximity to CSA have been decommissioned.
  • Specialist vacuums (HEPA Vacs) that remove tiny particles like the droplets that transmit COVID-19 are now part of the new cleaning protocols.
  • Coaches may be out of service for deep cleaning when a person with COVID-19 is suspected of being on the train.
  • Health checks/screening for crews and other critical staff.

Here are some additional actions underway on GO Transit and UP Express trains:

  • 3,720 hand sanitizer dispensers are being added to each entry zone of trains over the next three months.
  • Staff wearing face-coverings.
  • Increasing dwell times for trains to ensure customers are not disembarking at the same time.
Image shows a hand sanitizer machine inside a bus.

A hand sanitizer installed inside a GO bus. (Metrolinx photo)

On GO Transit buses:

  • Installed polycarbonate screens (protective barriers) on buses.
  • Operators may be wearing face coverings, face shields, and gloves.
  • You’ll see buses wiped down more often or de-commissioned for deep cleaning when a person with COVID was suspected to be on the bus.
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers are now available on all 400+ buses.
  • The seats behind and in close proximity to operators were decommissioned.
  • Applied a long acting antimicrobial germ protecting barrier on buses.
  • Giving bus drivers the option to exit the bus before passengers load and unload
  • Removed cash handling for bus drivers to remove that touch-point.
  • Removed luggage assistance, and other hands on services unless needed
  • Health checks/screening for operators.

Additional actions underway on GO Transit buses:

  • Staff wearing face-coverings.
  • Enhanced 100-point bus cleaning program.
  • GO Healthy Stations at every bus garage so staff can ensure their health is monitored and hands are disinfected.
An attendant sits behind a barrier.

In this file photo, taken before changes to face coverings, a station staff member sits behind protective plexiglass. (Metrolinx photo)

And at our stations:

  • Installed plexiglass screens to protect frontline staff.
  • Distributed reusable cloth face coverings, face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer to frontline staff.
  • You’ll see frequent cleaning at all stations.
  • Installed hand sanitizer dispensers at all stations for customer use.
  • Applied a long acting antimicrobial germ protecting barrier.
  • Removed cash handling at stations to remove touch-point risk.
  • Health screening and physical distancing between staff in our necessary facilities.
  • Stations being temporarily closed for cleaning when a person with COVID-19 was suspected of being in the station.

Additional actions underway at stations:

A woman stands in front of a monitor.

As well as recommending face coverings while on GO and UP Express vehicles, Metrolinx is piloting health and safety kiosks, that provide customers with tools and advice on how to stay safe. Here, a woman has her temperature checked at one of the kiosks. Scroll down for that story. (Merolinx photo)

  • Staff now wear face-coverings.
  • Piloting new health and safety kiosks at Union Station that interactively provide customers with additional information to help keep them, and the people around them, safe.
  • Union Station –
    • task force is developing a strategy to manage crowds especially under service recovery situations
    • Bay Concourse will be opening which will triple capacity at Union Station
    • Increasing dwell time of trains to prevent crowding on platform

More protection for customers:

  • Education for both customers and staff has been key throughout the pandemic and has helped change behaviours such as regular hand-washing and staying home if sick, cough/sneeze etiquette.
  • New recommendation from public health officials that customers wear face coverings to protect those around them.
  • New way-finding and signage.

As more people are allowed to move about, and return to GO Transit and UP Express, they are going to see changes – as they’ve seen in every other area of life.

But those changes are to ensure a healthy ride, and give us all the ability to create new, trusted habits as our world begins to open up again.

Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx, senior manager of media.