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San Diego bus riders discouraged, then encouraged to wear masks

Routes down 25 percent, riders down 75 percent

Bus passenger in Philadelphia arrested by police for not wearing mask
Bus passenger in Philadelphia arrested by police for not wearing mask

Every day, San Diego's bus and trolley drivers shuffle thousands of passengers around the county. As essential workers providing service to other essential workers, including those in healthcare, uncertainty clouds their daily routine.

Last week the Metropolitan Transit System announced that five bus drivers have contracted COVID-19. While vehicles are cleaned daily with bleach and other potent solutions, transit drivers didn't have to wear masks until April 3 when the county issued a new policy requiring essential workers to wear cloth face coverings.

For riders, it's only a recommendation. Neighboring Riverside Transit Agency has mandated cloth masks for riders and drivers. So has Los Angeles.

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Because of the virus, worries about a shortage of masks for healthcare workers have led to conflicting advice. On April 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of coronavirus. Three days later, the World Health Organization issued guidance that says healthy people don't need to wear face masks to prevent the virus from spreading.

Only recently did the Metropolitan Transit System change its website guidance in line with the county's new policy. Before, they advised riders not to wear masks because they encourage face touching. Now cloth masks are recommended.

"It's definitely confusing a lot of people. You don't know who to believe," says Rosa Olascoaga, a community organizer with Mid-city Community Advocacy Network. Olascoaga wears a bandanna when she goes out, but says she isn't currently riding the bus due to COVID.

"I feel the driver implementation was a very smart move," she says. But she's not in favor of a policy that mandates riders wearing face masks because enforcement could harm low-income riders.

People have been confused by the differing advice and the problem is that "there is no standard." The group and its partner organizations have been advocating for rear door boarding and fare suspension.

The agency has implemented rear door boarding for everyone except seniors and the disabled and eliminated cash payments. But they haven't waived fares, she says. So far she hasn't heard of anyone being ticketed for not paying.

Among the essential workers the group represents are cleaners and those in the medical field. Some are unsure if they should buy the $72 monthly bus pass, not knowing what will happen to transit service as the outbreak goes on, she says.

Starting April 13 the agency reduced services by 25 percent, reflecting fallen ridership – down 75 percent since the statewide stay-at-home order. Still, drivers are out there on the frontline, making about 100,000 trips per day.

"I think they did a really good job keeping the routes in place."

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Bus passenger in Philadelphia arrested by police for not wearing mask
Bus passenger in Philadelphia arrested by police for not wearing mask

Every day, San Diego's bus and trolley drivers shuffle thousands of passengers around the county. As essential workers providing service to other essential workers, including those in healthcare, uncertainty clouds their daily routine.

Last week the Metropolitan Transit System announced that five bus drivers have contracted COVID-19. While vehicles are cleaned daily with bleach and other potent solutions, transit drivers didn't have to wear masks until April 3 when the county issued a new policy requiring essential workers to wear cloth face coverings.

For riders, it's only a recommendation. Neighboring Riverside Transit Agency has mandated cloth masks for riders and drivers. So has Los Angeles.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Because of the virus, worries about a shortage of masks for healthcare workers have led to conflicting advice. On April 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of coronavirus. Three days later, the World Health Organization issued guidance that says healthy people don't need to wear face masks to prevent the virus from spreading.

Only recently did the Metropolitan Transit System change its website guidance in line with the county's new policy. Before, they advised riders not to wear masks because they encourage face touching. Now cloth masks are recommended.

"It's definitely confusing a lot of people. You don't know who to believe," says Rosa Olascoaga, a community organizer with Mid-city Community Advocacy Network. Olascoaga wears a bandanna when she goes out, but says she isn't currently riding the bus due to COVID.

"I feel the driver implementation was a very smart move," she says. But she's not in favor of a policy that mandates riders wearing face masks because enforcement could harm low-income riders.

People have been confused by the differing advice and the problem is that "there is no standard." The group and its partner organizations have been advocating for rear door boarding and fare suspension.

The agency has implemented rear door boarding for everyone except seniors and the disabled and eliminated cash payments. But they haven't waived fares, she says. So far she hasn't heard of anyone being ticketed for not paying.

Among the essential workers the group represents are cleaners and those in the medical field. Some are unsure if they should buy the $72 monthly bus pass, not knowing what will happen to transit service as the outbreak goes on, she says.

Starting April 13 the agency reduced services by 25 percent, reflecting fallen ridership – down 75 percent since the statewide stay-at-home order. Still, drivers are out there on the frontline, making about 100,000 trips per day.

"I think they did a really good job keeping the routes in place."

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