PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Despite social distancing being on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, passengers across Pinellas County packed the PSTA buses Friday.
It is now causing many drivers to question if enough is being done within county transit to protect passengers and drivers. One driver decided to take pictures and a video of the packed bus at 7:02 a.m.
“Everyone practicing social distancing right? Right? This is social distancing right here,” said the driver who took the video.
“Safety first must not apply to the drivers,” said April Murphy, the head of the bus union in Pinellas County.
Murphy says after watching the video, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Our drivers are scared to death. They’re scared they’re going to catch coronavirus and they’re scared they’re going to pass it to a family member,” she said.
She says not enough is being done to protect passengers either.
“You saw it in the pictures. Our passengers are jam packed like sardines,” she said.
The CDC and Governor DeSantis have asked people to stay at least six feet away from each other and to not gather in groups larger than 10.
“We don’t want any more than 10 people on a bus. Period,” Murphy said.
PSTA agrees and says it does care about its drivers and passengers. In a statement officials said:
“PSTA’s number one priority has always and will always be the safety of our entire staff and our riders, especially during these difficult times. To protect our employees, including our drivers, we are taking extra precautions/measures necessary to ensure their safety.”
PSTA will now allow drivers the ability to decide if they want to take more than 10 people. If they do, it can’t be more than half of the buses normal capacity. The driver must call dispatch to send another bus for remaining passengers.
“We’re in a bad situation right now but the most important thing to me is our safety,” said Marcus Kindcade, a bus driver for PSTA.
PSTA also says riders must enter through the back door with exception to folks in wheelchairs.
Murphy says they should also be implimenting the State of Emergency to free up hazard pay for employees. PSTA did not respond to ABC Action News about that option.
PSTA STATEMENT IN FULL:
"PSTA’s number one priority has always and will always be the safety of our entire staff and our riders, especially during these difficult times. To protect our employees, including our drivers, we are taking extra precautions/measures necessary to ensure their safety.
Currently, PSTA is offering and supplying bus drivers with masks and gloves as well as hand sanitizer and disinfectant. Additionally, roughly 80% of our buses currently in service have protective safety shields which help protect our drivers. Starting this weekend we are also moving to a Back Door Only policy where riders will enter and exit in the rear of the bus. Exceptions will be made for those in a wheelchair and riders with mobility devices. We are also allowing our drivers to limit ridership to no more than 10 people on a bus at any given time. If they feel more comfortable, they can have more than 10 riders but a mandatory cap of no more than half a buses normal capacity will be in place. If either ridership limit is reached and more people are waiting to get on a bus, drivers will be instructed to contact dispatch to send another bus to pick up the remaining passengers.
Lastly, we are implementing a plan to increase bus service during peak hours on PSTA’s busiest routes. As a public transit agency, we are still the lifeline for people to get to and from their places of work, grocery stories and even medical appointments. We will continue to provide a service to our community in the safest way possible to ensure not only that our riders get where they need to go but also that our drivers get home safely each and every night. We understand that this will impact the lives of many of our riders, and we sincerely apologize for challenges this may present. This is a unique time in our history, and we are adjusting, like so many public agencies, in order to keep people safe."