Transportation options may look different for students returning to Foggy Bottom this fall as closures, adjusted operating hours and new health guidelines have reshaped the way locals move across the city.
Students have previously taken for granted the traditional methods for transportation near campus – the Vex, Safe Ride, the Metro, the Circulator and the Virginia Science and Technology Campus shuttle – but the COVID-19 pandemic has made traveling a new risk for locals in D.C. As students return to campus, the Vex and VSTC shuttle stay closed, but public transportation options continue service despite the current caseload in the D.C. area.
Here’s what to expect if you’re in D.C. this fall:
The Mount Vernon Express
The Vex will be closed during the fall semester, University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said.
Nosal said officials canceled operating the Vex because the Mount Vernon Campus will be closed this fall. She said athletes will continue to use the Vern for practice fields, but they will use their “in-house” shuttles – personal team vehicles – to move back and forth between the Vern and residence halls.
The University’s Transportation and Parking Service website instructs students who live near the Vern and normally rely on the Vex for transportation to seek out bus routes on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s website.
Students living in D.C. can continue to use Safe Ride to move around campus, Nosal said. She said the University’s “temporary drivers” are still employed but “may be adjusted during the semester depending on rider volume.”
Safe Ride vehicles will operate every day from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., according to the University’s Safe Ride website.
Nosal declined to say how many University-employed drivers operating Safe Ride, the Vex and the VSTC shuttle are working during the pandemic.
After scaling back service when the pandemic struck D.C., Metrorail and Metrobus are back at full pre-pandemic service levels. Ridership numbers jumped by several thousand during the first week of full service earlier this month.
Metro lost its first employee to COVID-19 just more than one week ago, and the agency reported on its website that 308 workers have tested positive for the virus during the pandemic. Metro officials plan to distribute free masks and install hand sanitizer dispensers at 130 stations later in the fall, as the agency hopes to keep stations, trains and buses from fueling the spread of the virus in D.C.
Students can access the Circulator for free on any day during the pandemic but must wear a mask on buses at all times, according to a press release from the D.C. Department of Transportation Thursday.
The release came after Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday that the operating hours of two Circulator routes that run near the northern side of campus – Union Station-Georgetown and Rosslyn-Dupont Circle – will operate until 11 p.m. every day under expanded hours. Buses will open at 6 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends, the release states.
Passengers can board the Georgetown-Union Station bus at four stops along the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that runs across campus, and the Rosslyn-Dupont Circle bus will pick up riders at the corner of L and 24 streets, just north of Washington Circle.
The release states all passengers, except for those who need assistance to board, must enter and exit the Circulator at the rear of the bus. Passengers must distance themselves from others, cover their sneezes and coughs and should avoid touching their face with unwashed hands.
The Circulator route that circles the National Mall will remain closed, the release states.
Nosal said the VSTC Shuttle will not operate this fall, even though some buildings on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus will still be open to students and staff. She said officials expect most staff and students to be working remotely in the fall, eliminating the need to maintain an operating shuttle.
“While the VSTC campus will have some buildings in use this fall, the vast majority of staff and students will continue to work remotely this fall and there will be few, if any, needs for this intra-campus shuttle,” she said in an email.