Bus Fanning During Wave II of Pandemic (Spoiler Alert – Don’t Do It)

I’m a fan of public transport far more than I am fan of fraternity parties. I think we can all agree that in this time of pandemic, riding buses is far safer than attending the fraternity parties that could balloon to at least 70 people at one time. But with the news of Washington State’s largest county having moved on to Phase II of the state’s “Safe Start” plan, and what some media outlets call the “second wave” of coronavirus in the U.S., there are a lot of mixed messages on whether it is safe to emerge from our homes and start doing the activities we love to do—including bus fanning.

I don’t mean to hit people with cold water, but now is still not a good time to take that long inter-county bus or train trip for pictures (or, as was my excuse pre-pandemic, “for the heck of it”). There are lots of reasons beyond the fact that public transport still carries the risk of COVID-19 community transmission. It is a well known fact that the more distance you put between your home and the outbound bus terminal, the more difficult it is for public health officials to conduct contact-tracing. You inherently don’t know the people you’re sitting next to on an overloaded RapidRide coach. Some public transport agencies around the world have the fare payment infrastructure to facilitate contact-tracing among its riders. Meanwhile, most transactions on Seattle’s ORCA system take 24-48 hours to post to registered accounts—and there remains a sizable proportion of riders (particularly those who are served by community-based organizations) who do not have an ORCA card. Our infrastructure sucks, bus service is going to suck, and going back into lockdown for months at a time will suck.

At the end of the day, I still rely on public transport to shop for groceries, run errands, and attend the recent civic marches (mask on and everything). I don’t ride whole routes like I did prior to the pandemic. Sometimes, I feel compelled to hunt down and ride the new Xcelsior coaches that Sound Transit recently placed into service. Ultimately, even that is too risky for the safety and wellbeing of the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic does not stop us from reflecting on what the future of bus fanning would look like though. It may at worst die along with sh**ty social media trends and beloved Internet content. But who knows? Maybe years in the future, bus fanning rebounds and becomes a thriving community activity, and for joyful reasons. Maybe the wider community will appreciate the relationships that form from our interests in public transport. Selfishly speaking, I am hopeful that buses can continue to connect communities, and become mnemonic devices for ordinary riders to learn the first language of the land. Whatever future we envision as a bus fanning community, one thing’s for certain: It can wait.

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