PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — TriMet is limiting the number of riders on buses to 15 people to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The restriction takes place at 5 p.m. on Thursday, the regional transit agency said in an announcement released just two hours earlier.

“This is a temporary adjustment to further help those who must ride during this time maintain social distance from each other. By keeping the amount of riders on board low enough, they will be able to space themselves out from others and the operator,” TriMet said.

The restrictions were imposed three days after TriMet announced that the first employee, an operator, tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The agency said the Beaverton-based operator had been home since March 20 and health authorities said his threat to others was small.

If there appears to be more than 10 to 15 people on board, the bus operator will ask riders at a stop to wait for the next bus. The operator will alert TriMet’s Operations Control Center if the bus is at capacity. TriMet staff will monitor how bus lines are operating and may make adjustments if we see long wait times.

“By keeping the amount of riders on board low enough, they will be able to space themselves out from others and the operator,” TriMet said.

TriMet is also placing signs on seats in buses and trains to encourage social distancing. The signs that say “Don’t sit here” are an effort to help riders find seats that separate them from where others are sitting, and from the operator on a bus, by at least 6 feet.

Signs will be posted at some of our busier bus stops letting riders know about the limit and we’ll be alerting riders via service alert channels and social media. Riders are encouraged to plan extra time for trips in case they need to wait.

Even though the number of riders on buses must be limited at this time, TriMet will continue to operate service that is equitable, unbiased and safe.

“We appreciate our riders’ patience and understanding as we try to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep everyone healthy. In addition, once again, TriMet asks those who don’t have an urgent need to ride at this time, to leave the seats for those who do,” the agency said.

TriMet said weekly ridership has dropped more than 63% from the previous year after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued her stay-at-home order on March 23.

Service reductions in response to the ridership decline will go into effect on April 5.

Additional efforts to keep those who must ride right now and operators safe include:

  • Nightly disinfecting of buses, MAX trains, WES trains and LIFT paratransit vehicles
  • Daily disinfecting of main touchpoints at rail stations and transit centers
  • As possible based on staffing, disinfecting main touchpoints on some MAX trains throughout the day
  • Temporarily suspending cash payments on buses
  • Activating TriMet’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for elevated agency-wide coordination during the COVID-19 outbreak