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Omicron continues to hit the Metro system — and area riders — hard.

“It’s been a very tough period for us, to be frank,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told agency board members Thursday. “We have the most COVID cases that we’ve had since the pandemic [began].”

The shortage of drivers has forced Metro to make cuts to bus service, but Wiedefeld hopes those cuts will be reversed soon.

“We’re all hopeful that this spike is going to come down very quickly … if that occurs we will bring back the service as quickly as we can, as soon as those absentee-isms start to soften some,” Wiedefeld said.

His comments came after multiple D.C. council members sent a letter to Metro on Wednesday asking it to restore weekday bus service to normal levels.

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Wiedefeld also insisted that “definitely over 85%” of the Metro workforce is vaccinated against COVID-19. When it comes to vaccination, “there are a few people that have not done that, and we’re pressing toward discipline in that case, but that is minute numbers compared to the 13,000 employees that we have,” he said.

Additionally, Wiedefeld revealed that he himself recently battled COVID despite being vaccinated and boosted.

Wiedefeld blamed the omicron variant, in part, for ridership declines on both bus and rail. He told board members that recent numbers show ridership has dropped to 15% to 20% of pre-pandemic levels on rail, and that the number was “in the 30s,” percentage-wise, on bus — a drop in bus ridership that Wiedefeld called dramatic.

By comparison, Wiedefeld said that around Thanksgiving, rail ridership was close to 30% of pre-pandemic levels and bus ridership was near 60%. In addition to blaming omicron, he also attributed the decline to seasonal factors.

But he made no mention of Metro’s ongoing issues with the 7000-series railcars that have sidelined the majority of the agency’s fleet.

Also on Thursday, a Metro board committee voted to approve the name change of the Largo Town Center station to Downtown Largo.

News Source: wtop.com

Tags: coronavirus john aaron metro wmata pre pandemic levels bus ridership ridership board members bus service

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VTA will require all employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has announced it will order all of its 2,100 employees to be vaccinated, a move that comes months after other Bay Area transit agencies like BART, Caltrain, AC Transit, SamTrans and San Francisco’s Muni issued similar mandates.

The requirement will apply to both VTA’s frontline workers like its bus drivers and light rail workers as well as its administrative staff. While details are still being worked out, the agency said in a tweet Monday that inoculation against COVID-19 would be a condition of employment. The agency added it won’t accept testing in lieu of shots but will consider allowing medical and religious exemptions.

When the vaccines first came out last winter, transit workers at VTA were given early priority to take them.

“Now, we’re just trying to bring it the rest of the way home,” VTA spokeswoman Stacey Ross said. The start date is still being determined, she said, and so is the definition of “fully vaccinated” as either just the first round of shots or a booster too.

Ross said 54% of VTA’s frontline workers and 60% of all its workers including administrative have self-reported that they are vaccinated. In comparison, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department has a 92% vaccination rate.

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The looming mandate is opposed by John Courtney, president of the VTA’s largest union. He said the South Bay bus and light rail operator should not be imposing a mandate against frontline workers still enduring a mass shooting and cyber attack in 2021.

“A decent company would discuss a policy change with input from the workers,” said Courtney, who represents about 1,500 employees, including bus drivers and light rail operators. He said many workers strongly oppose the requirement and the union is pushing for a COVID testing option for non-vaccinated employees.

“What VTA is trying to do is scare people into getting a vaccination,” he said.

Previous vaccine mandates have led to some disruption of public transit service, including on Muni bus lines after some drivers did not comply. Bay Area transit agencies have not been hit by large-scale resignations, however.

The VTA’s order comes as the county’s health department has required workers in high-risk settings such as hospitals, jails and nursing homes to receive a booster shot unless they’re granted exemptions.The county’s booster mandate does not include agencies like VTA.

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