Bay Area transportation agencies brace for coronavirus spread as ridership plummets

BART said it has a contagious disease plan that has been updated since the coronavirus outbreak.

As counties around the Bay Area ramp up their responses to the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak, local transportation agencies remain on high alert, ready change how they will respond -- including limiting or shutting down service -- if the now-global pandemic becomes more critical.

Some agencies have already seen noticeable drops in ridership -- BART reported a 30% decline in ridership on Tuesday -- and many agencies are doing more frequent cleaning of trains and stations. But some are sticking with the protocols that were in place before COVID-19 took hold around the region.

So as Bay Area counties ban large gatherings, schools cancel classes and even professional sports teams, like the Golden State Warriors, bar fans from games, one question stands out: What will our region’s transportation agencies do if things get worse?


BART said it has a "contagious disease plan" that was updated since the coronavirus outbreak. Officials would not elaborate on the plan, citing "security sensitive information," but said it includes specific actions tied to specific "triggers."

Ridership on BART fell by 30% on Tuesday and agency officials expect it will continue to drop as more people around the region telecommute for work. 

BART said it has taken precautionary steps to wipe down hand-contact surfaces on trains and at stations more frequently each day. Beginning Wednesday night, BART will deploy hand sanitizer at each of its 48 stations.

"As coronavirus spreads into our communities we want our riders to know that BART is a safe way to travel and that if riders practice good hygiene it will help provided safeguards in between our stepped-up cleaning cycles," the agency said in a statement

SF Muni:

Muni officials in San Francisco said they are working with city partners and will follow any recommendations as they arise. San Francisco on Wednesday banned any public gatherings of 1,000 people or more, including Warriors games at Chase Center. Officials at the region's largest transportation agency are standing by to see if they will be ordered to limit or halt service altogether. 

Muni did not have recent ridership numbers, but on Feb. 28, it saw a dip of close to 5,000 riders from the day before on its metro trains. That was before the threat from coronavirus became much worse.

Muni said its custodians have been clean vehicles and high-touch surfaces approximately every four hours amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Those surfaces, though, are only sanitized until someone touches them and riders should continue to take precautions. 

AC Transit:

AC Transit officials in the East Bay said they are "following preparedness guidance" from local and state health officials. The agency said it could not plan for every possible scenario that may occur as COVID-19 continues its spread, but officials said their "protocols are nimble" and they will determine the best course of action from health officials should things get worse. 

The agency said it does not have current ridership numbers. It records numbers month-to-month and it is currently tabulating February's ridership.

AC Transit launched enhanced daily cleaning and disinfecting procedures last week including wiping down buses and fare machines. 

SF Bay Ferry and Golden Gate Ferry :

Both ferry services said they have developed contingency plans and are communicating with public health officials in case they are required to limit service. 

Golden Gate Ferry service which runs from Larkspur, Tiburon and Sausalito to San Francisco, saw a 25% drop in riders this week. SF Bay Ferry, which runs service around the rest of the Bay, said its ridership increased last week. It did not have numbers from this week.

Both agencies said they have implemented additional cleaning on frequently touched surfaces and made hand sanitizer available. 

Valley Transportation Authority:

VTA officials said they are "always planning" and are in contact with the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health and the City of San Jose to discuss possible impacts of the coronavirus. The agency said it is monitoring state and federal updates on transportation-related protocols. 

Ridership on VTA is down about 5% since mid-February based on a four-week sample size. 

Custodians are conducting frequent and routine cleaning of surfaces, agency officials said.


Caltrain and SamTrans officials said they are ready to modify their plans if necessary. Many large events that the agency provides transportation to have been canceled and the CalTrain said it is prepared to cancel more trains if necessary. 

Caltrain did not have ridership numbers, but Alex Eisenhart, a spokesman for the agency, said staff have seen fewer people on trains during peak commute times. 

The agency said it is not doing additional cleaning. Health officials have not directed Caltrain to modify its frequent cleaning procedures, Eisenhart said. 

Evan Sernoffsky covers crime, corruption, politics, investigations and more for KTVU's investigative unit. You can reach him at