MTA implements new bus boarding measure to facilitate social distancing

Photo by Mark Hallum

Getting on and off the bus while maintaining a safe distance between straphangers will be easier come Monday with rear-door boarding available on local and Select Buses, according to the MTA.

The latest social distancing measure aims to protect commuters – most likely essential service staff, as non-essential workers are prohibited from going to work come Monday morning – but also to lower the risk to transit workers on the front lines of snuffing out the epidemic.

Union leaders from the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the Amalgamated Transit Union and MTA Chair Pat Foye announced this will be the norm as long as the public health crisis exists.

The only buses were boarding will remain the same are express lines. On these, commuters will not be allowed to occupy the first three rows to protect drivers.

“While Governor Cuomo has ordered non-essential workers beginning Sunday night to remain in their homes and not take mass transit, we are taking aggressive action to protect our thousands of frontline employees who are delivering a critical service to New York, moving the healthcare workers, first responders, utility workers, and essential employees who are protecting us from this public health crisis,” Foye said. “Transit workers are the lifeblood of this city and region and we are going to do everything we can to protect their health and safety.”

TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano, in a statement, pointed out that as essential workers there are understandable risks during crises, but that acceptance can only go so far without the proper measures. Not only did he rear-door boarding would be an adequate measure but stated that it would be a morale booster.

“We know we are essential workers providing an essential service during this national emergency – but we also need to be protected to the greatest extent possible,” Utano said. “This is the right move. It will better protect our Bus Operators, give them some peace of mind, and demonstrate that their concerns have been heard.”

Sunday morning, Cuomo held his daily press conference updating the public on developments in the coronavirus spread and blasted members of the public who are still utilizing public space against the recommendations of the government. Moreover, he said he had met with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson to urge them to open up roadways as well as better enforce congestion measures that ban gatherings of more than 10 people at a time.

Opening streets would offer new forms of transportation to be utilized on a more widespread basis and would go along with Cuomo’s mandate to include bicycle repair shops in the range of essential services allowed to stay open during the state of emergency.

“We also recognize maintenance workers for their rigorous daily disinfecting of the buses. Hopefully the public will listen to the governor and travel only when essential,” ATU Local 726 President Daniel Cassella, said.

As of March 18, the MTA was reporting a ridership decline of 49% on buses due to the coronavirus and projects $4 billion will be needed from the federal government as a stop-gap measure if the decline across all agencies continues.