CHICAGO (CBS) — Two Chicago Transit Authority employees – a bus driver and a train operator – tested positive for coronavirus this week.
Bus drivers and train operators who are healthy are still coming to work, but the CTA reports ridership is down 80 percent. Still, while social distancing rules forbid groups of 10 or more, drivers cannot pass up passengers just because there are more than 10 people on a bus.
Many have wondered how one can practice social distancing on the CTA at all.
When we hopped on a CTA bus downtown on Thursday, there were plenty of seats for passengers to say six feet apart. But CTA employees told CBS 2 that when those buses venture into South Side communities, the seats fill up.
“There’s no social distancing,” said Keith Hill, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241. “It’s putting people at possible risk.”
CTA bus drivers sent CBS 2 images showing packed buses along the 79th Street route. Drivers said the pictures snapped this week on two separate days illustrate the risk to everyone on board.
“The people of Chicago, they’re not protecting you either,” one driver said on a social media video.
Many drivers have taken to social media to express their frustration, insisting they lack protection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m in danger every day,” the driver said. “I don’t know who’s getting on the bus. We don’t know who’s getting on the trains.”
On Thursday, when we stopped by the 79th Street route, we did not find overpacked buses. But Hill said images of people holding onto overhead rails on top of one another like any rush hour day should be just as alarming to Mayor Lori Lightfoot as the crowds on the lakefront – a problem that prompted the mayor to close the lakefront and its adjacent parks and put out emergency alerts reminding the city of it.
“When I see an image like that, I think of the danger that they’re placed in and the danger that they may take it home to their family and kids,” Hill said. “It’s a very concerning and disturbing picture.”
Other major cities have changed their methods. In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has started using rear loading so passengers can keep distance from the driver.
Mayor Lightfoot said Chicago has considered the idea.
“Obviously that has a cost component to it, because then people won’t see charge for the ride,” the mayor said. “Nut we’re looking at all options it may need to be on add another measure of safety for people ride public transit, where people still have to go to work and we make sure they can do that safely and comply with social distancing.”
Hill fired back, “If they’re more concerned with a dollar amount during these times, they’re going to have a major problem with my union and members.”
The Chicago Transit Authority on Thursday released the following statement.
Like local, state and federal health officials, CTA is encouraging our employees and customers to engage in social distancing to slow the spread of the COVID-19 health virus. With ridership down nearly 80 percent across the system, most of our vehicles are not filled and, as a result, customers are able to engage in social distancing practices with little effort. By law, CTA bus operators must pick up waiting passengers behind and cannot eject them from the bus without cause.
CTA continues to see systemwide ridership declines related to the Coronavirus outbreak. After fully analyzing ridership from Wednesday, March 25, and comparing it to the same day in 2019, preliminary numbers show:
Rail ridership: down: 85%
Bus ridership down: 72%
Overall ridership down: 79%