Covid-19: San Francisco deploys ‘Ambassadors’ to ensure social distancing on public transit


San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is deploying extra staff on its streets dedicated to ensuring that its public transit system – the Muni – does not get overcrowded while coronavirus social distancing measures are in place.

Yellow-vested Ambassadors wearing face masks are directing customers to maintain safe physical distance at curbside bus stops and boarding islands, working throughout the day to help San Francisco ‘flatten the curve.’

Though ridership has decreased dramatically thanks to people staying home in observance of the shelter-in-place, Muni continues to serve approximately 100,000 customers daily. These customers are largely hospital workers, social service providers, grocery store workers and other essential workers.

Muni Ambassador looks on as customer wearing a mask waits to board through the back after taking an essential trip for groceries

Although overall ridership is down, during peak times in certain areas there is some crowding at bus stops and on buses. If a bus is too crowded, operators are not picking up new passengers until there is enough room for more.

The Ambassadors encourage customers to practice good public health behaviour throughout the entire Muni experience – waiting, boarding, riding – as well as informing customers about alternatives to Muni like the new ETC discount taxi program for older adults and people with disabilities. They also have information on the temporarily modified routes or can explain why a bus may have just passed up riders.

In some places, SFMTA has added markings on the ground at bus stops to signal where customers can wait at an appropriate physical distance from one another.

Signage and ground markings at Muni stops encourage physical distancing

To encourage customers to give each other space on and off Muni, when buses arrive about half full or more, Ambassadors may ask customers to wait for the next bus. And, once a bus arrives the Ambassadors remind waiting customers to give space to those offloading, explain that customers are required to wear a cloth face covering or mask, and ask customers to maintain physical distance inside the bus throughout their ride.

Example of physical distancing on Muni buses: Wear a mask or face covering and give space for fellow riders

SFMTA has also launched new onboard announcements and two social media campaigns encouraging customers to #stayhome and use Muni for #essentialtripsonly. New signs inside Muni buses and ads on the outside of buses are coming soon to remind customers to give space and wear face coverings or masks.

Now that wearing face coverings is a citywide order, customers are required to wear these when riding Muni. Operators may skip stops if those waiting don’t have face coverings. Operators have been instructed that they may also skip stops if the bus is already more than half full to maintain appropriate physical distancing on board.


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About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).