The Midtown Bus Terminal Prepares for the New Normal

Story by Amanda Kwan, photos by Rudy King, Media Relations Staff

Like anxious parents, operations staff at the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) have been waiting to find out whether and when students will return to classrooms after Labor Day. Kids in school will mean parents increasingly can return to offices – and something closer to their pre-pandemic work commute.

For the PABT, that means preparing for a new normal. With public safety as its top priority, the Port Authority is taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and assure passengers their commutes are as safe as possible, with new amenities to make commutes more accommodating.

“We’ve been working hard to get to this point. Our staff, our retailers and all of our bus terminal partners are using industry best practices, guidance from health officials and new technology to remind passengers that public transportation is still one of the safest ways to commute,” said Mark Schaff, general manager of the bus terminal.

Commuters who haven’t traveled through the facility since March will see changes. First and foremost, face coverings are now required and must be worn properly, covering both the nose and mouth, and kept on for the duration of the passengers’ time in the facility.

Zaro’s has the right message at the bus terminal

At the PABT, face coverings and hand sanitizers are available for purchase at four retailers: Hudson News, Duane Reade, HS Cell Phone, and Jay’s Hallmark. PABT is the nation’s largest and busiest bus terminal, so keeping a safe distance between customers may not always be possible. That means strict adherence to face coverings is particularly important.

In July, terminal officials distributed masks to commuters needing required face coverings and are planning for a second mask-distribution program. While wearing a face covering is the responsibility of customers, PABT is stepping up everywhere else: enhanced cleaning of high-touch points such as handrails, doors, buttons, screens and seats; thorough overnight cleanings of bathrooms and floors, and 15 new hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the terminal.

PA employees distribute face coverings in July

“We’re deep-cleaning bathrooms and increasing the frequency of disinfection of high-touch points because those are areas where passengers have a lot of anxiety about making contact,” said Kirsten Jones, supervisor of customer experience at PABT. “We want to allay those concerns so that passengers can feel confident using the bus terminal.”

PABT is also trying new technology, such as UV-lights to sterilize escalator handrails. The technology is also being tested in a Port Authority-wide pilot program that includes escalators at Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports. Hidden from the public, it has been proven effective against the coronavirus by focusing germ-killing ultraviolet light on the width and sides of the handrail as it passes through the handrail balustrade enclosure.

High-tech cleaning comes to the PABT
Example of health advisory signage

As ridership returns, customers can expect some familiar – and new – services to make their commutes more comfortable. New Jersey Transit is now staffing its customer service windows, and various bus carriers plan to modify service at as demand grows. PABT also is welcoming two new retailers as a sign of confidence in the region’s economic recovery, adding to the 17 businesses that have already reopened.

With passengers starting to readjust after months at home, PABT will also be making changes to align with ridership and monitoring operations closely. These will include new signage and updated announcements reinforcing face covering requirements and other public health best practices. Port Authority police officers are ready to educate visitors – or remind commuters – of the new rules of commuting safely.

All the signs are clear: Welcome back to the PABT.

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