Fears and tension mount for commuters still heading to work

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press

People wear protective masks during the coronavirus pandemic while boarding a bus near the Fordham Metro North station Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in New York. As the coronavirus rages across the U.S., grocery workers, health care professionals, university staffers, cleaning crews and others who dont have the option to work from home must weigh safety against affordability when deciding how best to commute to their jobs. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK – One by one, the fears creep in as Aura Morales rides the bus to her job at CVS in Los Angeles. A passenger boards without a mask but she doesn't dare confront him. More riders board and it's impossible to stay six feet apart. Driving to work isn't an option; Morales can't afford a car, especially after her work hours were cut.

“I get on the bus, I just pray," said the 53-year-old.

As the coronavirus rages across the U.S., grocery workers, health care professionals, university staffers, cleaning crews and others who don’t have the option to work from home must weigh safety against affordability when deciding how best to commute to their jobs.

Those who can have ditched public transportation and drive to work instead, contributing to a boon in used car sales in the U.S., which spiked to their highest level on record in June, according to Edmunds.

Meanwhile, public transit agencies have seen ridership plummet, not only because of all the people opting for cars but also so many are now working from home or have lost their jobs altogether. Transit ridership fell 62% nationwide in the third quarter compared to last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Heavy rail fared even worse, dropping 72% in the third quarter.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency warned that without an influx of cash it would have to lay off up to 1,226 full-time workers, or 22% of its workforce, and provide just 35% of the service it offered before the pandemic. New York’s transit agency proposed slashing subway and bus service by 40%, cutting commuter rail service in half and laying off nearly 9,400 positions. Washington D.C.’s transit system warned of layoffs and shorter hours as federal financial assistance dries up.

“It really is survival mode for the industry, or we’re going to see dramatic reductions in their service deliveries, which would really be counter-productive,” said Paul Skoutelas, APTA’s President and CEO. "Essential workers rely on public transit by and large, and we can’t let them down.”

In September, 71% of U.S. workers across all sectors were commuting to physical workplaces while 29% were doing their jobs remotely, according to a survey of 1,015 employed adults by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.