While many local businesses have shut down in reaction to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority is still running buses to provide an essential service to the area.
“What we’ve found is there are still health care workers, people in the service industry, and hourly workers that still have to get to work during this time,” said Michele Canty, communications specialist for WATA. “They count on us to get to work and make a living.”
During the outbreak of the coronavirus in the area, WATA has taken steps to provide service to its riders while maintaining healthy practices.
In the past week, the transportation service announced it would no longer be accepting fares from riders and that guests were to enter buses through the back door.
Canty said those measures help protect the bus drivers who would come into closer contact with riders if they entered through the front doors as they normally would.
“It’s all about keeping our drivers safe,” she said. “When you get on the bus, you’re essentially right in the driver’s face so the [back] door is about six feet away from them to limit that risk of contact.”
She added that getting rid of fares isn’t something to be seen as a business decision, especially because most of WATA’s revenue comes from state and federal funding. The new fare policy allows riders and drivers to put an even greater distance between each other.
The new fare policy will continue for as long as necessary, she said.
WATA has also recently cut various service lines, including the trolley line, in order to make sure there was extra staff on hand so drivers don’t feel pressured to come into work if they don’t feel well.
WATA is still maintaining its most popular lines—one, two, three and five–during this time, Canty said.
Routes one and two will discontinue service after 9 p.m. and route eight will operate from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, according to WATA’s website. Additionally, WATA has suspended all frequency services through March 29.
Extra precaution also are being practiced in the buses as far as cleaning and sanitizing.
SCHEDULED CLEANING: All WATA service will be closed Sunday, March 22 for extensive cleaning. Being closed will allow us to sanitize not only our vehicles but also our offices and shared work spaces. pic.twitter.com/gz7Tgiy9l3
— Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) (@goWATA_VA) March 20, 2020
Canty said in general, the buses practice strict safety and health measures even before the outbreak. This means wiping down the steering wheels and inside machinery regularly and cleaning the inside of the buses each week.
WATA also has included nightly cleaning of all surfaces and instructing drivers to be extra vigilant to make sure their areas are clean.
There are also signs posted in each bus with information from the Virginia Department of Health with guidelines for how to be safe and prevent the spread of the virus.
Canty said the public transportation system will continue to operate unless there is a state order that requires them to stop service.
“We provide a service we feel is vital to the community and we have to really take that into consideration,” she said. “There are a lot of people that wouldn’t be able to get to work and pay bills without us, so it’s not a matter of us just saying we’re going to shut down—it’s more critical than that.”
For more information and updates on available services, visit WATA online.
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