Concerns about subway and train travel have persisted as states try to get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic. But as the fall comes and businesses look to reopen, crowded public transportation will become a necessary evil millions will have to face on a daily basis.
Amtrak is hoping to alleviate some concerns by giving customers a way to plan ahead. On Wednesday, the railway service said that customers will now be able to see a percentage showing how full their reserved train will be.
Bookings are limited on most trains to allow for physical distancing so the quantity of customers traveling will be indicated based on the reduced number of seats available. The percentage is displayed in real time when customers search for their train, according to a statement from Amtrak.
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“Prioritizing health and safety, we continue to provide customers with new, innovative measures that promote physical distancing and contactless travel,” said Amtrak President and CEO Bill Flynn.
“We have studied, analyzed, and made improvements to the Amtrak travel experience–from beginning to end–for the safety and health of our workforce and travelers.”
The capacity meter will be available on both the website and mobile app. The new meter is part of larger efforts to provide a contactless experience for train riders in light of the pandemic.
Amtrak received about $1 billion through the CARES Act, passed in March, to help it deal with the costs associated with keeping passengers safe from COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Amtrak said it was partnering with George Washington University to help provide expertise and advice for their coronavirus measures.
“To continue providing service across 46 states, we need to be aware of the impact of the coronavirus as well as best practices, regional disparities, and evolving guidance from health officials,” said Steve Predmore, Amtrak EVP and chief safety officer.
“The extensive expertise within the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health will augment our internal health and safety team as we continue to make decisions to protect customers and our employees who serve them,” Predmore said. A team from George Washington’s Milken Institute School of Public Health will be a key addition to Amtrak’s public health and safety advisory committee, he said.
The capacity meter is just one aspect of Amtrak’s app update, and in a release the organization said “Version 4.1” includes a number of tools designed to help promote contact-free travel and social distancing.
With the app, customers can avoid lines and booths by booking and changing tickets digitally. The app also sends out gate and track information via push notifications to avoid crowded platforms. Tickets can be scanned directly from your phone by conductors and the app has information on stations, routes, and service changes.
The capacity details will be available for all trains except for those within the Pacific Surfliner and Capitol Corridor. Amtrak put in place a number of rules to keep passengers safe, including “enhanced” cleaning protocols, contact-free solutions, air filtration systems and mandated face coverings.
“The improvements made to the app and website will help improve our customers’ experience while providing easy access to important travel information,” Flynn said.