SEPTA ramps up cleaning efforts on buses and trains amid coronavirus outbreak

The Broad-Ridge Spur at 8th and Market streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Broad-Ridge Spur at 8th and Market streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

One good thing may come from the coronavirus: cleaner trains and buses for SEPTA riders.

There are no cases of COVID-19 in the city as of now, according to city officials, and SEPTA wants to help to keep it that way. There are, however, two cases in Pennsylvania, including in neighboring Delaware County, and three cases in New Jersey.

Today, authority officials deployed crews throughout the system to sanitize stations and vehicles to decrease the chances of riders contracting the virus on SEPTA’s network.

Assistant General Manager of Operations Scott Sauer said the effort may lead to some long-term improvements to their cleaning habits since the authority was already looking at ways to clean up its act.

“We have been looking at a change to our cleaning practices, anyway,” Sauer said. “This is an opportunity to kind of test out some new ideas on how to get things clean more efficiently and maybe even a little quicker.”

Crews will use disinfectants to sanitize high contact surfaces in stations at least three times a day. Vehicles will also be cleaned three times a day and will undergo a more rigorous, detailed cleaning every two weeks, up from every 30 days. Sauer also assured SEPTA service will not be slowed by the stepped-up cleaning effort.

“We believe we have staffing in the right places to make these things happen without slowing service,” he said.

SEPTA released the results of a customer satisfaction survey in 2018 that found cleanliness was an area of improvement, with a 6.8 out of 10 rating.

“Some days it’s completely clean,” said A.J. Walker of North Philadelphia, before boarding the Route 48 bus, which he takes several times per week. “Some days you see trash or the seats haven’t been cleaned, [as if] they don’t clean the seats like they’re supposed to every day.”

Joe Askew of West Oak Lane said he takes the subway every day, and “sees SEPTA workers trying to do their job,” keeping the trains clean.

“I think it’s more of a SEPTA rider’s responsibility to try to help them keep the trains clean,” Askew said.

SEPTA joins other transit agencies, including New York City’s MTA and Boston’s MBTA in taking extra precautions to slow the spread of the virus that has already taken more than a dozen lives in the U.S. PATCO, which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey, where three cases have been confirmed, is also stepping up its efforts.

“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority,” said PATCO spokesperson Mike Williams in a statement. “PATCO is closely monitoring official communications regarding this health issue and is taking appropriate measures as the situation surrounding the coronavirus develops.”

That includes “cleaning and sanitization of common areas and solid surfaces frequently touched” and increasing supplies of cleaning products and protective equipment.

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