Takashi De Leon
On March 23, the Central Transit Facebook page announced they would be increasing safety and social distancing practices in an attempt to protect customers and agency employees. The precautions will be in effect until further notice.
“We do not have any plans to reduce any services at all, we can see by the amount of people that are riding that those riders are using it for essential services,” Betsy Dunbar, City of Ellensburg transit manager said.
Central Transit is a City of Ellensburg service that contracts with Hope Source, who provides drivers and buses, among other services. The transit is a free service for the public and is accessible for anyone, including those with mobility challenges.
There is a complementary paratransit service available for anyone who cannot access public transportation due to a disability, injury or illness and they can qualify for a door-to-door service within the city’s limits.
Mark Holinsworth, the director of operations at Hope Source said they have safety measures within the building for the drivers. The safety measures include hand sanitizer inside the building, masks to wear while in the building, spacing of six to 10 feet in the rest area and then every hour disinfecting everything the drivers touched.
Hollinsworth said drivers sanitize the bus at the beginning of shifts and then sanitizing them at each stop as a safety precaution. He added that there are five routes running and each of those circuits have a time stop which is a designated stop where passengers get on and off the bus. During the time stop, the drivers are sanitizing surface areas, doors, guard rails and seats every 15 minutes.
“We have also blocked off sections of our seats so that we have good distance spacing for those who ride,” Hollinsworth said.
At the end of the day, the drivers thoroughly clean and disinfect buses with a spray of 60 to 40% alcohol approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which is effective against coronavirus said Dunbar.
Margaret Reich, communications and government relations officer of the City of Ellensburg said the federal government has not given them any requirements; they are following the best practices they have received from the transportation safety administration.
Reich said the drivers have hand sanitizer, masks and safety vests on at all times, and they are taking advanced precautions by watching for passengers who are coughing or unwell and encouraging them to stay home. If passengers need personal protective equipment, the drivers can provide it.
“From the first two weeks of March to the …first couple weeks of April, [riders] have dropped probably from about 1,100 riders to 750 riders in the week,” Dunbar said. “And it is now starting to pick up slowly but there hasn’t been a huge increase yet.”
According to the Central Transit Facebook page, passengers are encouraged to use open seats, practice good hygiene like covering coughs and sneezes and avoiding the transit if symptomatic.
Reich said transportation is an essential service that needs to continue. Especially now that Gov. Inslee announced his phased reopening plan for businesses. Reich said they will continue to see the amount of passengers gain as those phases of the governor’s plan go into effect.
“A lot of our drivers have taken this job because they have a service heart. They want to do a job that they make an income on,” Hollinsworth said. “But they want to do something that makes a difference in their community to support their brother, their neighbor…they feel an obligation to make sure that people have access to food, hospitals, medical care and nutrition.”