Gov. Phil Murphy ordered New Jersey Transit and other private carriers to cut capacity by 50 percent on trains and buses and mandated that commuters and workers wear face-coverings, in the latest bid to stomp out the COVID-19 pandemic as it spreads across the state.
“Right now for many of our essential workers, public transit is how they get to work, and we need to protect them during that trip,” Murphy said Saturday during his daily COVID-19 press conference in Trenton.
The order takes effect Monday at 8 p.m., and applies to the statewide transit agency, which has seen its ridership drop by nearly 90 percent in the last month, as well as dozens of private agencies that service commuters across the state. It requires that the bus and rail operators limit the number of passengers to “50 percent of the stated maximum vehicle capacity.”
NJ Transit and private carriers would have to cover the costs of providing face coverings and gloves to their workers. The order also requires all passengers to wear face coverings—with the exception of those under the age of two, and those with medical conditions.
Conductors can deny entry to anyone who refuses to wear a mask.
Agencies are encouraged to install “counterless pay options,” such as the mobile ticketing apps NJ Transit swapped in place of ticket machines.
As of Sunday, a total of 61,850 New Jerseyans tested positive for COVID-19, which included 2,350 fatalities and 7,604 hospitalizations.
At least 100 NJ Transit workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and hundreds have self-quarantined.
NJ Transit already slashed much of its service in the prior weeks, as hundreds of thousands of commuters opt to stay at home to avoid coming in contact with the virus.
That has led to packed buses and trains on the remaining routes – the opposite of social distancing, where individuals maintain a 6-foot distance from each other – and something with which the agency has been grappling.
“While we’ve been able to strategically target select trips on some bus routes with added service. Like transit agencies across the country, we simply don’t have the manpower to add more service,” NJ Transit Chief Executive Officer Kevin Corbett told reporters following last week’s board meeting, which was done remotely.
Tight restrictions have touched upon every aspect of daily life in the state, such as the banning of gatherings of any size and the closure of most “non-essential” retail businesses. Even those businesses deemed essential, such as pharmacies and grocery stores, are now requested to limit how many patrons can enter the establishment at any one time, and for people to wear face coverings.
All of this, proponents argue, starves the virus of any fresh hosts to which it could spread.