ATLANTA — Eight MARTA employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The impact on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is even bigger because many other employees are having to quarantine themselves as a result. MARTA has made several changes to adapt to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And now, a video of a packed bus has one rider suggesting that while MARTA juggles safety for its bus drivers, it should also make changes to keep 'essential' riders safe.
The video, taken on March 31, shows riders on MARTA Bus 124 sitting and standing too close for comfort in the age of social-distancing
“We’re like whoa!“ Sauda Silvera, who shot the video to show conditions on the bus, said. “We’re toppling on each other. Nope. Mm-hmm. I don’t know where you came from or what you did last night. I don’t know if you washed your hands or you got hand sanitizer. Or who you interacted with. I don’t know. You’re too close to me and I have no choice now.”
Silvera works in security. She said she has been riding on the route for three years to get to work. The buses she takes are often crowded, but she expected more space in the wake of the City of Atlanta's social distancing order.
“I am very concerned,” she told 11Alive.
MARTA said it is taking precautions against the coronavirus by boarding passengers through the back door. It has suspended bus fares to limit contact. Officials have also put a barrier between the drivers and the riders. And, with demand and revenue down, bus service has also been reduced by about 30 percent.
“Did you really think it through when you were like, 'We’re just going to go ahead and load everybody to the back,'?” Silvera asked. “The problem with it is, I don’t think people realize how many essential workers there are. From janitors to the hospital, people who work in the hospital, people who are still working at the airport, people working at the grocery store, people who actually do take public transportation.”
11Alive showed the video of the crowded but to MARTA Chief of Bus Operations Collie Greenwood.
“That’s factual. That’s inarguable and it was shocking,” Greenwood said about the video. “But it’s a classic example of what I was just talking about, where despite the fact that the operator is empowered to make these decisions, we still have a case-in-point where the system failed.”
Greenwood said even though fewer people are riding the bus, some routes are still seeing a lot of traffic. To address it, MARTA has given bus drivers more power to enforce social distancing.
“When the bus is at 50 percent, they’ll call the bus control center (BCC). Bus control center will dispatch a new vehicle to get behind that bus and pick up for them and that bus as crowding level exceeds 50 percent and approaches 60 percent or 70 percent, they will then flip the destination sign on to say that bus is full,” Greenwood said.
So far, it hasn't been perfect, but MARTA said it's adjusting
“We don’t propose to be perfect, but we are committed to continuous improvement,” Greenwood added.
MARTA plans to send additional buses to Silvera’s bus route along with any others that are still seeing a high volume of riders. That is good news for Silvera and other essential workers who are still riding the bus to get to work.
“Give me some reassurance they’re not only looking out for the bus driver,” Silvera said. “But, as a consumer, as a customer, I want some reassurance to as well that whoever is in charge is also looking out for our well-being, too.”
MARTA is also urging riders to wait for a new bus if the bus they plan to take is crowded and they are able to wait. They are also asking riders to report any problems so they can address them.
As for the MARTA trains, they will continue operating on a weekend schedule, officials said. Trains will start at their regular weekday time to compliment the bus service. Due to extremely low ridership, the Mercedes-Benz/State Farm Arena/GWCC rail station will remain closed until further notice.
In Cobb County, where several other practices are already in place, officials said they plan to institute rear entrance only loading and suspend fares on CobbLinc starting this week. CobbLinc has also taped off some of the seats on buses to encourage social distancing and posted signage to remind passengers of the importance of that.