Lynx drivers get added protection
Joseph Orque-elie pulls a Plexiglas shield beside the driver’s seat of a bus at the Lynx central station Friday in downtown Orlando. Many safety measures have been installed on the buses amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Just in time for a spike in COVID-19 cases, Lynx public bus operators are getting more substantial protection from possible infection — a 75-pound door made of aluminum panels and a sliding window that shields the driver’s seat.
“Drivers have been taking about this for a long time,” said Bernard Theodor, a Lynx bus operator for seven years. “Definitely safer.”
As with many protective items needed in response to the pandemic, receiving and installing the doors took Lynx longer than anticipated. The delay was long enough that the agency’s staff installed a temporary, do-it-yourself version.
The hinged doors, however, are substantial, closing with a “chunk” sound. They cost at least $4,787 and are being installed in nearly 300 buses.
The manufacturer markets the doors with a brochure that includes headlines of “driver slashed,” “violent riders” and “vicious attack.”
But the current worry for many Lynx drivers is being infected with COVID-19.
Lynx serves and is funded by Orlando, Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. In late March, the agency quietly suspended fare collection — a small part of the agency’s revenues — and began to direct riders to use rear doors only, lessening the amount of interaction with drivers.
Last week, Lynx’s board approved continuing fare suspension through July.
Lynx also sharply limits the number of riders on each bus so that they can maintain distance from each other.
The period of greatest worry was when stay-athome orders were in effect, said Joseph Orque-elie, a driver for five years.
But the buses continued to run, carrying a fraction of pre-pandemic passenger loads, most of whom did not wear masks.
“We did not know what to expect,” said Orque-elie.
Masks are now in far greater use at Lynx’s Central Station, a covered, open-air complex along Garland Avenue between Amelia and Livingston streets in Orlando.
Also in place now are permanently mounted dispensers of hand sanitizer and buses being equipped with fare boxes that will be able to accept touchless payments via phones and cards.
Lynx is carrying about half of its pre-pandemic volume passengers, which had been about 83,000 daily.
Signs encouraging social distancing are placed on the seats of a bus Friday at the Lynx central station in downtown Orlando.