In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the University of Michigan’s upcoming public health-informed fall semester, major changes are coming to the campus bus system.

The changes, announced by Logistics, Transportation & Parking, will take effect Aug. 24 and were developed in collaboration with experts at Michigan Engineering. LTP expects the adjustments will allow campus buses to meet essential travel needs and peak demand, while also addressing passenger safety.

“The challenges that the university faces for the fall in-person semester have forced the Transportation team to think very differently about the way we will have to provide service,” said Steve Dolen, LTP executive director.

“A tremendous amount of work has gone into planning for the fall semester and it has been a truly collaborative effort led by a great team in the College of Engineering. We are really lucky to have such smart and dedicated faculty. They were committed from the beginning of the effort to help us solve how we would operate. A special thank you to our transit drivers who continue to support the needs of our students, employees and greater campus community.”

This video shows how, by simulating how particles exhaled from passengers on a bus would travel through the vehicle under various conditions, U-M researchers have been able to develop guidelines for how to operate campus buses more safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Requiring face masks and increasing ventilation

After modeling air dispersion on campus buses, engineering faculty concluded that face coverings will be essential for all riders and drivers. Computational analysis demonstrates that masks significantly reduce the “Exposure Risk Zone,” making short rides safe for passengers. Accordingly, LTP is implementing a “no mask, no service” policy.

During each trip, bus windows will remain open and drivers will open doors for increased ventilation at every stop. LTP also installed plexiglass shields to serve as a barrier between passengers and drivers.

Unless wheelchair access is required, passengers will board and exit campus buses from rear doors.

Reducing riders per bus and redesigning routes

U-M buses will allow seated passengers only, on all routes, to reduce total riders per bus. Normally, each Blue Bus allows for 76 passengers, and prohibiting standing riders will allow each vehicle to transport up to 40 riders at a time. Buses will run more frequently to meet travel demand, though a reduction in class sizes across U-M will also help to reduce bus occupancy.

New bus routes will limit the duration of each trip to last approximately 15 minutes or less. Going forward, there will be direct bus service between the Central Campus Transit Center and Pierpont Commons, with more frequent buses at peak times, as well as Medical Campus express routes to commuter parking areas. LTP is directing U-M community members to refer to the new U-M Bus Route Guide.

Photo of Andre Boehman, professor of mechanical engineering, and members of his research group testing for the flow of aerosols in a U-M bus. (Photo by Joseph Xu, College of Engineering)
Andre Boehman, professor of mechanical engineering, and members of his research group test for the flow of aerosols in a U-M bus. Logistics, Transportation & Parking announced Aug. 13 that major changes are coming to the campus bus system, effective Aug. 24. (Photo by Joseph Xu, College of Engineering)

Additional public health measures

Informed by public health experts and current best practices, LTP has enhanced cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces on campus buses.

Additionally, as everyone has a role to play in not accelerating the spread of COVID-19, signage on and inside buses, as well as at bus stops, will remind passengers to take important public health measures. Volunteer ambassadors at key bus stops also will assist passengers and remind them to wear face coverings.

Operational change building on faculty insights

A group of researchers from across the College of Engineering informed the recommended changes to the campus bus system. The team was convened by Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.

Based on the latest public health data, the team identified two key goals: to minimize the exposure of bus riders and drivers to tiny liquid droplets that transmit COVID 19 throughout the air, and to minimize the amount of time riders spend on a bus.

“The virus is largely spread through airborne aerosolized particles, and we have a conservative estimate of how many particles it takes for people to be at a high risk,” said Jesse Capecelatro, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a member of the project team. “We used physics-based modeling to predict how those particles travel through the bus and find ways to reduce their spread.

“We have faculty performing route optimization to minimize the amount of time riders spend on the bus. All the modifications to the system are important, but wearing masks is by far the most important factor.”

U-M requires all students, staff, faculty, and visitors to wear a face covering while anywhere on campus grounds.

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