Port Authority Grapples With Coronavirus Challenges

Mar 18, 2020

Transit agencies across the country are scrambling to keep up with the effects of coronavirus: MTA in New York City says it needs $4 billion from the federal government, operators in Detroit, Mich. held a walkout because of exposure concerns. Port Authority of Allegheny County is seeing rising costs, a drop in ridership, and worried employees.

Port Authority’s employees continue to interact with the public, whether as operators or customer service or people cleaning vehicles. Many contacted their union with concerns about sanitation and social distancing. Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union wrote in a letter to members that the coronavirus presents “an unprecedented challenge” in which their “paramount concern is your safety and well-being.”

Local 85 held an emergency meeting with the agency on Wednesday to discuss the availability of hand sanitizer, options such as rear door entry only, and the preservation of pay if transit service must ultimately be cut.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Port Authority’s spokesperson says the agency is considering modifications; they know their operators cannot work from home. Officials from Local 85 were not immediately available for comment.

The agency implemented a new social distancing policy on all vehicles. It asks riders to keep six feet between one another and the operator. Seats at the front of the bus will be folded up to provide a barrier to the operator, unless someone with a physical disability requires them. The agency asks that all riders continue to wash their hands, and change seats if someone nearby appears to be sick.

Ridership has taken a significant hit. Exact numbers lag about a week behind, so it will be a few days until Port Authority can say exactly how many fewer people are taking transit, the spokesperson said. At the same time, maintenance costs have surged. The agency is spending a lot more on bleach, disinfectant, and labor to sanitize bus and rail vehicles every night. The daily cleaning is up from Port Authority’s normal schedule of once a month.