Transit Agencies' Challenge Is to Balance Service with Safety

Detroit bus driver JaVita Brown wears gloves and a protective mask during the COVID-19 outbreak. City buses will have free surgical masks available to riders starting Wednesday, a new precaution the city is taking.

Detroit bus driver JaVita Brown wears gloves and a protective mask during the COVID-19 outbreak. City buses will have free surgical masks available to riders starting Wednesday, a new precaution the city is taking. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

From distributing face masks to offering free rides, transit agencies have adopted different approaches to protecting workers and passengers. But union leaders say more needs to be done to keep workers safe.

In the nation’s capital, subway service now stops at 9 p.m. Cincinnati bus riders will have to pay fares again after officials grew concerned that free service was encouraging people to violate the state’s stay-at-home order. And in New York City, face masks are being distributed to all public transit employees.

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing tough decisions on public transit agency officials, who need to keep their employees safe while also preserving vital bus and train service for people who must get to essential jobs.

Some advocates for workers say not enough has been done to protect them. Thousands of transit workers across the country have fallen ill and dozens have died after contracting the virus. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York has been the hardest hit.  Forty-one transit workers have died after contracting the virus. But agencies across the country have also been affected. Three Philadelphia transit workers died this week, as did a bus driver from St. Louis.

“Our members are getting infected at a rate that is higher than the general population, because we are continuously exposed to dozens of riders at close range without adequate personal protective equipment to keep us safe,” said Amalgamated Transit Union International President John Costa in a statement this week.

The union is calling for the Federal Transit Administration to secure and distribute personal protective equipment, including N95 face masks and gloves, to transit agencies.

In a letter to congressional leadership, the union said Congress should provide $775 million for PPE, while requiring transit agencies to ensure that buses and trains aren't crammed with riders in violation of "social distancing" guidelines meant to prevent spread of the coronavirus. 

Ridership on public transit has plummeted amid the outbreak, as authorities issued stay-at-home orders that resulted in many people either working from home or, as has been the case with millions in the past few weeks, losing their jobs. While public transit agencies have reduced service, they have sought to maintain core routes to provide a way for essential services workers—including doctors and grocery store clerks alike—to get to their jobs. 

In and around Washington, D.C., 19 subway stations are closed and trains are running every 20 to 30 minutes with service ending each day at 9 p.m. Ridership had dropped precipitously after 9 p.m., and officials with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said shorter service hours would allow transit workers “to spend more time with their families, all while reducing their exposure to the public.”

As agencies adjust hours and frequency to accommodate fewer riders, they have at times struggled to avoid dangerous overcrowding, said Scott Goldstein, the policy director at Transportation for America.

“There is a real need for guidance and best practices to help provide information on how agencies should operate,” Goldstein said.

After reducing runs or otherwise changing schedules, agencies need to provide transit operators with guidance on how to avoid overcrowding, Goldstein said. This could include addressing scenarios such as whether drivers should skip bus stops if they believe their vehicle cannot safely accommodate any more riders.

Several cities have opted to waive bus fares amid the coronavirus outbreak as a safety measure so riders don’t have to cluster together or near bus drivers to pay fares when they board. 

Cincinnati’s Metro suspended fare collection for bus riders at the end of March. But Mayor John Cranley said the transit agency will begin charging fares again this week after concerns were raised that people were using free bus service to get to parties and other large gatherings despite Ohio’s stay-at-home order.

“It’s clear many people took advantage of free buses to come downtown and gather illegally in violation of state law,” he said at a news conference this week.

To protect transit workers and riders, some agencies have taken to distributing face masks and other personal protective equipment.

“Agencies have been figuring this out ad hoc,” Goldstein said. “Some are providing masks and gloves, some are providing shields for the operators.”

In Detroit, where a bus driver died two weeks after posting a video on Facebook in which he criticized a passenger for not covering his mouth while coughing, the department of transportation this week began distributing masks for passengers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance this week on best practices that bus drivers, train conductors and station workers should take to protect themselves.

While the guidance suggests limiting drivers’ contact with passengers by keeping them at least six feet from the driver and having them enter and exit through the rear door of the bus, it offers no suggestions on whether or not transit workers should wear face masks. 

In New York, MTA President Patrick Foye defended his agency’s response to the pandemic, saying the transit agency initially resisted calls to dole out face masks because neither the World Health Organization or CDC recommended it. Since the MTA reversed its decision and began issuing protective gear last week, Foye said 460,000 N95 respirators and surgical masks, and 2.5 million pairs of gloves have been deployed to employees.

“We have implemented our plan and made necessary changes in real time as we deal with this unprecedented public health crisis,” he said.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: ‘Now Is the Time to Beg’: City Officials Plead with Residents to Stop Flushing Toilet Paper Alternatives

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.