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Montreal-area public transit agencies step up COVID-19 safety measures following bus drivers’ lead

Coronavirus outbreak: Montreal mayor says transit will stay running unless provincial directive issued
WATCH: Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said on Tuesday she does not have plans to reduce public transit at this time despite concerns over COVID-19, saying while social distancing remains important, cutting the number of transit methods could keep people without vehicles from being able to get food, medication or other necessary supplies.

The Société de transport de Montreal (STM) and the Réseau de transport de Longueuil (RTL) announced Tuesday that they are stepping up safety measures for bus drivers in an effort to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19.

This move comes one day after bus drivers started building tape barriers around their seats and requesting passengers enter from the back door only.

“It was an initiative from the union that we followed [Monday] morning,” said the Société de transport de Laval (STL) communications advisor Estelle Lacroix.

The STL was the first of the Montreal area’s three public transit agencies to endorse the bus drivers’ heightened safety measures.

“Health comes first,” said Lacroix who admits they will rely on passenger honesty from now on for payment. “It will be the honour system.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus patient used public transit in Montreal: Quebec government

The union representing Montreal drivers posted a message on Facebook Tuesday morning denouncing that some bus drivers had received threats of suspensions following their initiative to distance themselves from passengers.

“We have decided to do what the STM refused to do,” said CUPE 1983 president Renato Carlone in the video posted Tuesday morning.

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Quebec’s Premier recently referred to health care workers as guardian angels, since they are on the front lines fighting the pandemic.

“These guardian angels, we are the ones who will be bringing them to work,” said Renato while adding that it’s important his members stay on-the-job and healthy. All three public transit agencies were on board with the initiatives from their unions by the afternoon.

RTL bus
RTL bus with barrier to separate bus driver from passengers on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Staff/Global News. Karol Dahl/Global News

“Starting today (Tuesday), we are applying new measures to reduce contact between employees and clients,” said Amélie Regis from the STM communications team. The new measures implemented by the STM include:

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Bus network:

– authorization to enter by back door, with the exception of passengers in wheelchairs,

– consequently, no obstruction of front entrance

– leave the seat behind driver empty at all times

– Kiosque 747 at airport closed

– limit of one client per collective taxi

Metro network

– ticket purchase and refill only available by automated ticket tellers.

– station agents will remain behind glass to inform clients

– suspending travel-assistance for clients because of reduced activity

Adapted transportation

– limit of one client per minibus and taxis

– suspension of payment/toll enforcement

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Quebec reports 74 confirmed cases

The RTL made its announcement on Facebook Tuesday afternoon.

“As we agreed to yesterday with the bus driver’s union representatives, the RTL is announcing a new measure to prevent the propagation of the virus among its clientele and employees.”

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All clients except for those with reduced mobility are being asked to enter and exit the bus using the back door.​