Like the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon. Distribution plans are being put in place, and we must ensure transit operators are given priority.
Public transportation provides access to employment, education and healthcare. It also ensures everyday citizens can gain access to food, medicine and other necessities. Transit is essential. For some, it is their only means for getting where they need to go. Since the pandemic hit, transit agencies across the state have been working tirelessly to provide as much service as possible in both rural and urban communities, while working to keep operators and passengers safe. Cleaning protocols and social distancing parameters are in place. Face coverings are required. Yet, transit operators are being exposed to the virus and we are witnessing the impacts.
Significant driver absenteeism has caused ongoing service interruptions and changes, not to mention complete cessation of service in Jefferson City in early-November – which has thankfully been restored.
The Missouri Health Department’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan currently includes Transportation Systems in Phase 1B, as part of Missouri’s Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers. Transit workers are on the front lines. They need to be protected. They need to be included in initial priority groups right behind doctors, nurses, emergency responders and the elderly.
Prioritizing vaccinations for transit operators will enhance the current disease mitigation strategy, while helping to minimize service disruption, so we can move Missourians and keep the economy on track.
Kimberly Cella, executive director of both Citizens for Modern Transit and the Missouri Public Transit Association.