Reno public bus drivers say they and their passengers aren’t safe

Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 6:48 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - There are issues that can keep you off a Regional Transportation Commission bus. No shoes, no shirt no ride. Masks, however, are optional, even in the face of a pandemic and public health guidelines calling for them.

Drivers tell us if you try to board a bus without a mask these days, you’ll be offered one, but you won’t be compelled to wear it and they say they’re not even allowed to ask why if you don’t take them up on the offer.

Keolis, the company that contracts with the Regional Transportation Commission to run the bus system says their hands are tied, by government directives that exempt people with disabilities that might prevent them from wearing masks and by the federal American Disabilities Act.

So, if a young, apparently able-bodied person boards without a mask and declines to take one offered, there’s nothing standing in their way. That might come as a surprise at a time when a grocery store can ask someone without a mask to leave, but Abul Hassan, Keolis' General Manager in Reno, says that’s not a luxury the RTC which receives federal funds has.

Just how many are riding maskless? RTC sources say very few, a handful among the thousands of daily riders.

“That’s not true,” says Dawn Newsom, who has been both a RTC driver and passenger. "There are several on each individual run.

Hassan and the RTC point to data from driver’s logs to back up their claim. Newsom and others say those logs were based on reports to dispatch initially. Then drivers were told just to turn in the numbers at the end of the day. Most don’t she says because nothing changes.

Making matters worse social distancing guidelines don’t seem to apply to RTC buses. Some runs, especially in the morning are packed.

“Like sardines,” says driver John Locke.

Hassan admits that may happen, but says the company watches for patterns and could add more service where necessary. A plan to dispatch “booster buses” to handle the extra load was apparently discarded.

Hassan insists the safety of drivers and passengers is a primary concern. Some drivers disagree.

“We can’t do it all,” says Newsom, "they need to step up.

The Teamsters Union has filed a lawsuit supporting the drivers' concerns.

Copyright 2020 KOLO. All rights reserved.

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