While many people are now working from home due to the spread of coronavirus, other members of the workforce, like grocery store staff, are still required by employers to go out to perform their regular duties and, in some cases, interact with the public.
And since people need a way to get to those essential jobs, other sectors, such as transit, become inherently essential, too. Metro Transit has significantly decreased its frequency of weekday service and its ridership is down, but some buses and trains are still running.
“We move the city,” said Reginald Howard, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788. That’s a point of pride for Howard, who began working as a Metro mechanic nearly 25 years ago. But that critical role is also currently a huge point of concern for him and his union members.
While Metro Transit has taken steps to more frequently and thoroughly clean transit vehicles and limit bus drivers’ and Call-A-Ride operators’ interactions with passengers, worry remains widespread.
In addition, Metro Transit is not immune to the current coronavirus pandemic. On March 24, a Metro Transit spokeswoman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that three Bi-State Development employees tested positive for COVID-19.
Two are operators at the Brentwood MetroBus facility, and one is a clerical worker at the Metro Transit corporate headquarters in the One Metropolitan Square located in downtown St. Louis.
On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Howard about the safety procedures Metro Transit has implemented following the coronavirus outbreak. He thinks even more can be done to instill confidence among employees.
“[Metro has] cleaning companies with contracts that clean each facility,” he said. “There have been questions for a long time on the cleanliness of buses. We want them to have some professional cleaning, at least once, to build the confidence of the operators. … It’s a confidence builder to make them feel safe.”
During the show, Ron Klein, the executive director of the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, also discussed cleaning protocol and the rules taxi cab drivers must follow when transporting other people.
“Our rules and regulations are that [taxi cab drivers] must keep their cabs cleaned and sanitized before they transport with the public,” Klein said. “What we have found is protective equipment for drivers, which is hard for anyone to find, is also hard for the drivers to find. We have been soliciting donations from the community to help keep the cabs sanitized.”
As a result, Klein said, items including hand sanitizer have been donated to taxi cab drivers. “We are getting some community support, which is really good,” he added.
The most important message for transit riders right now, according to Howard and Metro Transit officials, is to limit trips to absolutely essential travel.
From our team at Metro Transit to our passengers: Thank you.
Thank you for only using transit for essential trips, for maintaining social distancing while riding, for boarding our buses at the back, and for your patience and understanding. pic.twitter.com/O5G8LKBAV7
— Metro (@STLMetro) March 27, 2020
Listen to the full discussion, which included two callers who voiced their own questions and concerns about taking public transportation during the pandemic:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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