A Muni bus operator has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to San Francisco’s top transit official.
Jeffrey Tumlin, head of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, confirmed the test results in a staff-wide email Tuesday night addressing the pandemic.
“It was inevitable that at some point at least one member of our staff would be directly affected,” Tumlin wrote. “We can now confirm that someone in our SFMTA family has tested positive for COVID-19.”
Tumlin added that the agency’s thoughts and well-wishes “are with them and their family.”
The Muni operators’ union, the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, said the agency informed them the staffer was a Muni operator from the agency’s Potrero Yard.
Potrero Yard is home to the 5-Fulton, 5R-Fulton Rapid, 6-Haight/Parnassus, 14-Mission, 22-Fillmore, and 30-Stockton bus lines, according to a Feb. 22 Muni document outlining Muni assignments. Those buses traditionally serve more than 100,000 daily Muni riders, but Muni ridership fell drastically after The City’s shelter-in-place order took effect earlier this month.
Roger Marenco, the president of the TWU Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators, told the San Francisco Examiner that any Muni operator exhibiting symptoms or with reason to believe they’ve contracted the coronavirus should take safety precautions.
“My message to operators is: If you are sick, stay home. If you are afraid, stay home. If you are taking care of a family member, stay home. If you are taking care of children due to school closures, stay home,” Marenco said.
COVID-19’s impact on San Francisco continues to deepen.
On Tuesday, Mayor London Breed confirmed the first COVID-19 death in San Francisco, a man in his 40s who had significant underlying conditions. There are 2,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California, including 178 cases in San Francisco as of Wednesday morning.
A shelter-in-place order issued by Bay Area counties has led to many people staying inside their homes for safety, but it has also led to a precipitous drop in transportation ridership across the region.
Bay Area transit agencies this week, including Muni, BART, and others, have called on federal, state, and local lawmakers for emergency funding to bail out their agencies so that service can be provided during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marenco, the Muni union president, has demanded SFMTA institute a temporary suspension of collecting fares because the farebox is not socially distant from Muni operators.
Metro is in service for essential travel. Please use rear doors to board buses, the front doors remain available for those who need the boarding ramp. https://t.co/4lV0ZPvKqY pic.twitter.com/HfOO9eMuiS
— LA Metro (@metrolosangeles) March 24, 2020
In the Tweet above, LA Metro, a Los Angeles transit service, announces rear-door only boarding. SF Muni operators have asked SFMTA to institute the same policy.
Marenco has also asked SFMTA to only allow rear door boarding, unless the rider has a disability or is in a wheelchair, and for a maximum amount of passengers per Muni bus to ensure social distance is maintained.
Taking matters into their own hands, Muni operators have begun taping up their fare boxes and asking riders to board from the rear doors only. While Marenco has asked SFMTA to make these policies official — as transit operators in Los Angeles, the East Bay, and across the country have — SFMTA has not yet said it will go cash-free, or mandate rear boarding only.
As of Tuesday night, Muni operators were sent a message from management stating “modifications to SFMTA vehicles/equipment are not authorized” in an apparent attempt to stop Muni operators from socially distancing themselves from riders by using tape.
In a press statement, SFMTA said it directed high-risk or sick employees to stay home and implemented telecommuting for staff who could work from home.
The agency also replaced service from vehicles that do not have plastic protective barriers for operators including cable cars and streetcars, distributed 900 spray bottle kits of disinfectant for bus yards, stepped up the cleaning of vehicles and created “public health campaigns” to remind riders to remain socially distant from others.