Lynx driv­ers get added pro­tec­tion

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Kevin Spear

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.

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Signs en­cour­ag­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing are placed on the seats of a bus Fri­day at the Lynx cen­tral sta­tion in down­town Or­lando.

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