Protests impact transit service in several U.S. cities

June 1, 2020
Some systems underwent complete shutdowns while other systems were avoiding areas where demonstrations were taking place.

Transit systems in several major cities shutdown or were re-routed over the weekend to avoid potential safety situations with demonstrations taking place in the wake of the death of George Floyd on May 25.    

In Minneapolis, Minn., the city where Floyd died while in police custody, all Metro Transit bus, light rail and Northstar service is suspended through at least the end of Monday, June 1. Metro Mobility and Transit Link services remained open for trips to accommodate those essential workers who rely on transit for transportation to and from work. Additionally, Maple Grove Transit suspended its express bus service to and from Minneapolis through June 1.

In Chicago, regional transit providers implemented different levels of service suspension. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Pace suspended all service late Sunday night. Both systems hoped to have operations returning Monday morning, June 1, with CTA service avoiding downtown Chicago. Metra will not operate on June 1 citing safety concerns for the public and its employees. Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District suspended South Shore Line service at 3:00 p.m. May 31 and will not operate on June 1.

Miami-Dade Transit closed its whole system on Sunday, May 31 saying the decision was “in an abundance of caution” for the systems passengers and employees. Service is scheduled to resume June 1.

Atlanta’s Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), suspended all services at 9:00 p.m. May 30 and 31 in accordance with a city curfew with services set to resume the morning of June 1. 

“MARTA prioritizes the safety of our customers and employees. As protests continue in Atlanta and in cities across the country, transit service has been interrupted. MARTA Police Officers are stationed throughout the system to help ensure the safety and security of customers,” the agency said.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority service had certain routes avoiding Philadelphia’s Center City due to unrest on May 31, but the entire system was eventually closed at 6:00 p.m. Most services resumed Monday morning. 

Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) cancelled all commuter services to Los Angeles, Century City and San Fernando Valley. AVTA said its top priority was the safety of its passengers and operators. The authority’s leadership will continue to monitor the situation to evaluate when service may resume.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspended service May 30, which stranded some riders. The agency vowed to continue service running through May 31 and issued a statement apologizing for the abrupt suspension of service the previous day.

“[L.A.] Metro apologizes to transit customers who were stranded as a result of the suspension of transit services on Saturday night. We took this action out of utmost concern for the public and our employees during the growing severity of this protest,” the agency said. “After implementing the suspension of service at 8:00 p.m., Metro reissued some buses to pick up stranded passengers in specific areas of Los Angeles. We also sought to utilize micro mobility vehicles to assist returning passengers in getting to their final destinations. We sent street supervisors in the various geographic areas to patrol bus stops and notify riders that service was suspended and that they should make other arrangements as a result to this emergency. Metro tried to assist stranded transit riders as best it can given the grave and unexpected nature of this emergency.”

Additional systems to experience service interruptions due to protests include Sound Transit, King County Metro, Regional Transportation District of Denver, TriMet, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Valley Metro, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Sacramento Regional Transit District, Central Ohio Transit Authority and Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County.

Another controversy surrounding transit’s role in the protests involved the use of transit fleets to transport police officers to demonstration locations and to transport arrested protestors.

On May 29, Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, which represents New York City bus and rail operators, posted a tweet encouraging its members to refuse to operate vehicles transporting arrested protestors.

In a May 28 statement calling for an investigation into Floyd’s death, the Amalgamated Transit Union offered a reminder that its members, specifically Minneapolis bus drivers, could refuse dangerous duty.  

“…As our members – bus drivers – have the right to refuse work they consider dangerous or unsafe during the pandemic, so too Minneapolis bus drivers – our members – have the right to refuse the dangerous duty of transporting police to protests and arrested demonstrators away from these communities where many of these drivers live. This is a misuse of public transit.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.