Going The Distance By Bus Through A Pandemic

L.A. Metro bus driver Voris Lombard sits behind a partial Plexiglas protect and wears gloves and a masks whereas driving. After every shift, Lombard removes his uniform and footwear earlier than coming into his dwelling, he says. “It’s almost like you’re going through a hazmat routine.”(Heidi de Marco/KHN)

LOS ANGELES — Mary Pierson boarded an almost empty L.A. Metro bus on the nook of Atlantic Boulevard and Riggin Street in Monterey Park one current afternoon.

Pierson, 69, makes use of a wheelchair and depends on public transportation to get round. She takes the bus a couple of occasions every week from Long Beach to varied elements of Los Angeles to run errands and store for groceries. Today, she took the No. 68 to the financial institution.

“I’m glad they’re still running,” stated Pierson, who wears a masks, gloves and sun shades on board and disinfects her wheelchair after each journey. “I live alone and need to get out of the house.”

She’s additionally usually alone on the bus. Transit ridership has plummeted since mid-March, when states started imposing stay-at-home orders. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, often known as L.A. Metro, stated ridership has fallen 64% on buses — about 1.2 million folks rode them every day earlier than COVID-19 hit — and by 76% on rail.

Despite the danger of the coronavirus in public locations, persons are nonetheless boarding public buses and trains as a result of they don’t have any different choices to get to work, buy groceries and fill prescriptions.

“We’re still seeing over 400,000 people per day,” stated Brian Haas, communications supervisor for L.A. Metro. “What that tells us is that we’re a lifeline for people.”

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Perhaps probably the most weak are the bus drivers and practice operators. The Transport Workers Union of America has misplaced 96 members to COVID-19, the overwhelming majority in New York City, the union says. None of the fatalities have been in California.

New strategies of sanitation and decontamination, like ultraviolet lighting, ought to be used, stated John Samuelsen, the union’s president. “Masks are the very minimum of what can be done to increase everybody’s safety,” he stated. “We need to be thinking about what post-pandemic public transport will look like.”

To date, L.A. Metro has equipped front-line workers with greater than 715,000 pairs of gloves, 385,000 masks and 40,000 bottles of non-public hand sanitizer.

Until not too long ago, face coverings had been non-compulsory on public transit in L.A. County.

But in early May, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that every one passengers on all Los Angeles Department of Transportation buses can be required to put on face coverings to cut back the unfold of the virus. The division is a municipal company that operates throughout the metropolis and is separate from L.A. Metro. L.A. Metro began requiring passengers to put on face coverings May 11.

Because of the low ridership numbers, social distancing is normally not an issue on buses, stated L.A. Metro bus driver Voris Lombard. “When people get on the bus, they have plenty of room to sit.”

Lombard, 59, checks out his bus at 10 a.m. earlier than beginning his route, which fits from downtown to Montebello. Lombard, a bus operator for 20 years, says he feels lucky to nonetheless be working. “The people that require our services are essential workers,” he says. “That’s the satisfaction I get out of the job.”(Heidi de Marco/KHN)

Only two passengers experience Lombard’s bus on a current morning.(Heidi de Marco/KHN)

Jose Salazar, 63, prepares to disembark. Salazar has trusted public transportation solely since he took his automotive to the store a couple of weeks in the past, and rides the bus a number of occasions a day to get round East L.A. and Monterey Park.(Heidi de Marco/KHN)

An indication close to the entrance entrance of the bus asks passengers to board from the rear door. Rear-door boarding was carried out in March to assist keep correct social distancing and maintain drivers secure. L.A. Metro asks its bus riders to “have” their fares, however isn’t requiring them to pay them, says Brian Haas, the system’s communications supervisor.(Heidi de Marco/KHN)

Rojelio Artalejo, 45, waits to board the No. 770 bus in Monterey Park. Artalejo is a janitor at a grocery retailer and is dependent upon public transportation to get to work.(Heidi de Marco/KHN)

For additional safety, Mary Pierson wears batting gloves when she takes public transportation.(Heidi de Marco/KHN)

The entrance door of the bus is reserved for folks with mobility gadgets, akin to wheelchairs or walkers.(Heidi de Marco/KHN)

This KHN story first revealed on California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Heidi de Marco:”>, @Heidi_deMarco

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