Transit riders in the St. Louis region must wear masks while on trains or buses beginning this week.
The requirement is part of Metro Transit’s plan to make it safer for drivers and riders while resuming bus and train operations suspended by the coronavirus.
That plan also calls for bus drivers to start collecting fares again in June. But the union that represents bus drivers said it may not be safe by then to have drivers exchanging money with passengers — even if everyone is wearing masks.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788 President Reggie Howard said he wants to see St. Louis’ coronavirus cases decline consistently before fare collection resumes.
“People are afraid right now,” he said. “We don’t want to [restart collecting fares] at the expense of the operators. We would like to keep their safety No. 1.”
Metro Transit has made changes to protect operators and passengers since it suspended fare collection in March. All drivers are provided masks and gloves, and plastic shields have been installed around drivers’ chairs. Capacity has also been limited on buses and trains.
Howard said these changes are good, but he’s worried that fare collection requires drivers and passengers to get too close.
Metro executive Jessica Mefford-Miller said that the agency may implement extra safety measures if the rate of new coronavirus cases has not decreased sufficiently by June. Resuming fares could decrease the number of people riding the bus for nonessential trips, which could make the buses safer, she said.
Resuming fares will be necessary to help cover costs incurred during the coronavirus shutdown, including lost revenue and increased expenses. Ridership fell across most MetroBus and MetroLink routes. Metro cut low-ridership routes to put extra drivers on the busiest routes and changed bus frequencies to try to maximize social distancing.
“We are working right now to try and stabilize our operating budget so that we can continue to provide this transit service the St. Louis region needs into the future,” she said.
Metro will receive $142 million in federal aid to help cover coronavirus-related costs. But Mefford-Miller said the agency still needs to find other sources of revenue.
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