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‘Virtually Empty’ Harvard Shuttles Switch to On-Demand Service

Harvard Transportation and Parking stopped running its shuttles Monday.
Harvard Transportation and Parking stopped running its shuttles Monday. By Thomas W. Franck
By Simon J. Levien, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Transportation and Parking stopped running its shuttles Monday, shifting to an on-demand van service to serve the University’s mostly empty campus amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Ridership of the University’s shuttles has “dropped by 99%” since the majority of students were told to leave campus last month, according to Harvard Campus Services spokesperson Michael D. Conner.

Conner wrote in an emailed statement that the decision was made in light of the University’s choice to move instruction online for the rest of the semester, in addition to a Massachusetts stay-at-home advisory issued amid the pandemic.

Before the Monday announcement that campus transportation services would become on-demand, shuttles had already been running on a reduced schedule and limited routes since March 30.

“The last remaining shuttle route is running virtually empty,” Conner wrote. “Only essential employees are being asked to come to campus, and at this moment, the shuttles are not deemed essential.”

Conner added that Transportation and Parking has been serving fewer than 30 riders per day. As a result, the office has extended its on-demand van service — which previously ran in the evenings — to a schedule of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

Transportation services have also ramped up sanitization efforts, according to Conner, cleaning vehicles after every shift and equipping drivers with sanitizing wipes. When a passenger boards, they are instructed to sit in the last row of seats to maintain an appropriate distance between the passenger and driver.

Additionally, Harvard employees hesitant to use public transportation because of the COVID-19 outbreak have become eligible for free parking in certain Harvard facilities, Conner wrote.

Conner also wrote that the Guaranteed Ride Home Program, which covers ride costs for postdoctoral students and employees in emergencies, has seen zero participation, despite the fact that the program could cover some medical- or health-related transport.

The Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization — a nonprofit that operates the M2 shuttle which runs between Cambridge and Harvard’s Longwood Medical Area — has developed similar pandemic precautions.

MASCO has seen “greatly reduced” ridership due to the pandemic, according to its website. But because its busses service the Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and multiple hospitals, the shuttles have still seen some passenger use.

Beginning March 22, MASCO shuttles implemented rear-door boarding procedures to facilitate social distancing. A team of cleaners have also begun sanitizing “the entire interior” of each of MASCO’s vehicles every night, according to the MASCO website.

A MASCO spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to Harvard and MASCO’s transportation services, Bluebikes — a Greater Boston area public bike share system with several stations near campus — began offering free 30-day memberships to hospital workers in need of transportation through April 30.

The company is disinfecting “high-contact surfaces” on the bikes, such as seats and handlebars, each time they arrive in the Bluebikes depot, according to its website. It is monitoring developing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and local public health officials to determine whether it will continue the service.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

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