As transit service continues amid pandemic, SunTran driver expresses health concerns

File photo of SunTran bus, St. George, Utah, Feb. 13, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The public transit system in St. George has been deemed an essential service and has remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some bus drivers are concerned about the implications of continued service on their health as the cramped quarters of their workspace complicate social distancing recommendations.

Peter Estrada, a bus driver employed by the city, has been pushing for the transit system to close amid ongoing health concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. He has a history of cardiovascular problems and asthma, putting him at greater risk if he were to contract the disease. He said other drivers in the city are also concerned about their health in the midst of the pandemic.

According to the city, extra sterilization is being performed on its fleet of SunTran buses.

“We’ve increased the cleaning of the bus and the sterilization,” St. George Communications Director David Cordero said. “With our drivers, as with any city employee, we urge them not to come to work if they are sick. Our buses are deemed an essential service, and we will keep those operating unless we are told not to.”

SunTran manager Mike Cardon confirmed that the buses are cleaned nightly, with additional weekly scrubbing by professional cleaning crews. Drivers are also welcome – but not required – to wipe down buses during breaks, and Cordero said latex gloves are available for drivers who want them.

SunTran buses stop in St. George, Utah, Dec. 12, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Estrada wears a bandanna to work daily, but he said the city has not supplied masks or gloves to further protect drivers. There is also no divider between the drivers and passengers, leaving drivers exposed throughout their workday.

“They have been using some sort of fog machine that disinfects the bus, but that only happens at the end of each day,” Estrada said. “We’re out here dealing with many people, and it’s hard to socially distance yourself on a bus. We often have well over 10 people on a bus.”

Around lunch time is when Estrada sees the most passengers. But outside of the lunch rush, he said the number of people taking public transportation has decreased dramatically.

The buses supply hand sanitizer and wipes, but Estrada said they run out quickly.

Cordero said the pandemic response is a fluid situation and that the city will make changes as needed.

St. George Mayor Jon Pike said the city is taking safety concerns seriously.

“Our emphasis is on both employees and passengers, our citizens, to make sure that they can have the confidence of being healthy and safe in our SunTrans buses,” Pike said.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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