MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Public transportation was never designed for the kinds of precautions required to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no way in the world you’d ever think something like this would happen,” veteran bus driver Demetre Muhammad said.
Drivers like Muhammad, who also trains new operators, are doing all they can to keep themselves and the customers safe.
“We still have our front line operators showing up every day because transit moves the people still. We have operators doing the best they can do every single day,” Muhammad said.
So far, Metro Transit’s message to the riding public of essential trips only appears to be working.
Bus ridership is off 71%. Green and Blue light rail traffic is down 72% and 79% respectively.
However, by far the steepest decline is on Northstar Commuter rail. Its ridership is off a whopping 97%.
“We’re cleaning the vehicles as much as we can,” Metro Transit’s deputy director of bus operations Brian Funk said.
Currently, close to 200 Metro Transit union employees are off the job, either with varying degrees if illnesses or on personal leaves. So far, no employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
Metro Transit’s Funk says extra measures are keeping workers and riders safe.
They instituted protocols like frequent disinfecting of trains and busses, rear door-only boarding and placing physical separators near the front of the bus to keep passengers and drivers at a safe distance.
“Unless you need a ramp at the front door, you need to board the door at the back to provide social distancing between operators and customers,” Funk said.
This week, the company and union will partner to secure 6,000 fabric masks for workers.
“A company called Torpedo Bag here in Minnesota is switching production line over and Metro Transit is working with us to get them out this week,” ATU Local 1005 president, Ryan Timlin said.
Sadly, the pandemic has already claimed the lives of 33 New York transit workers.
Preventing any serious illnesses or deaths locally, has union and management boarding on a unified journey.