Owen Tucker-Smith

Yale’s free shuttle service is up and running this semester, with social distancing restrictions put in place to avoid transit-driven spread of the coronavirus. Students, drivers and administrators of the Yale Shuttle told the News they were satisfied with its safety precautions.

Of the five total bus routes that are typically available to students, only four of the routes are currently in service — the Blue Route, Orange Route, Red Route and VA Route. These routes allow passengers to visit Science Hill, Orange Street, Peabody Museum and the Yale School of Medicine. In addition, the Blue and Orange Routes are available for use at night. Shuttle buses undergo an extensive cleaning process before, during and after drivers’ shuttle shifts.

“Before all the drivers come in, the buses are disinfected early in the morning,” First Transit Assistant General Manager in New Haven Luz Viera said. “When the drivers check in, they again disinfect and spray the seats, the handrails, even their own drivers’ area. After they do the loop of their run, they spray again. And once the vehicles get back to the yard at the end of the shift, they get sprayed and disinfected again. They get disinfected a whole lot during the day.”

Other safety precautions include passengers being prohibited from standing and using the front door, in addition to a 50 percent capacity cap.

According to Viera, while routes were restricted at the beginning of the term, they are now back to normal with slightly fewer buses on each line.

Although virtual classes don’t require convenient trips to the top of Science Hill for chemistry lectures, first years wanting to explore Yale and New Haven outside of their coursework can use the shuttle. Matt McNierney ’24 said he and his friends were able to use the shuttle last weekend to avoid a long walk.

“My friends and I decided to walk to East Rock,” McNierney said. “We picked up the shuttle near the high school and took it back to Cross Campus. It was really convenient to not have to walk back, and it ended up taking a quarter of the time.” 

The shuttle was “pretty full,” McNierney said, but he felt relatively sheltered with regard to COVID-19 conditions.

The buses are also equipped with plastic dividers that separate each row of seats. These dividers, however, do not span the entire height of the bus.

While Viera did receive phone calls from concerned potential passengers about COVID-19 precautions, she said the shuttles are currently operating at 50 percent of their current capacity — and that usage is steadily climbing.

Viera noted that everyone on the shuttles is required to wear a face mask, and that passengers would be turned away if they didn’t have one. The face mask requirement has not been an issue thus far, Viera said.

“Everybody already knows that carrying your mask is like carrying your license and your wallet, you have to take it everywhere,” she said. “We haven’t had any bad apples complaining about it.”

McNierney said he felt safe during his shuttle ride. His only complaint was that passengers were not necessarily six feet apart from those in front and behind them.

Arcene Bernadel, who drives one of the Yale Shuttles, said the safety measures in the shuttles were effective.

“The driving is still good,” he said. “We have less people in there now, we disinfect the bus every morning and the drivers spray it down in the daytime. It is safe.”

Bernadel also said that what the service will look like in the coming months remains uncertain. He noted that the system will depend on how COVID-19 adapts over the next months.

Another Yale Shuttle driver, Juan Rivera, agreed. Rivera told the News that when students return for the spring semester, the shuttle’s service might change again.

Normally, Yale Transit also provides a Safe Rides program during the evening, which takes students door-to-door within campus. Because of the pandemic, Yale has temporarily suspended Safe Rides.

On its website, Yale Transit shares that “the safety of staff, riders and the community is our top priority.” Yale is offering “socially distanced safety walks,” in which officers will walk students to their destinations with appropriate distancing.

The Yale Shuttle runs year-round, with the exception of Yale holidays.

Owen Tucker-Smith | owen.tucker-smith@yale.edu