By Carla O’Day and Bob Conrad
The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County today reminded the community that masks are required when riding transit and those without masks will be provided one.
This applies to RTC RIDE buses, Regional Connector and FlexRIDE service, along with RTC ACCESS para-transit service.
“The health and safety of transit passengers and contracted transit drivers are the RTC’s top priorities,” RTC Executive Director Bill Thomas said in a statement. “We want people to know they can ride safely with RTC. To date, there have been no COVID-19 cases reported among transit passengers or transit drivers.”
Free masks for riders
Transit riders may use their personal face covering or request a free one from RTC customer service at the 4th Street Station, 200 East Fourth St. in downtown Reno, or Centennial Plaza, 1421 Victorian Avenue in Sparks.
Passengers are also encouraged to practice social distancing.
ACCESS drivers have masks available on board for transit passengers, and RTC RIDE contractor Keolis has face-covering dispensers on order to install on buses. Increased transit vehicle sanitization remains in place and RTC is in the process of installing hand-sanitizing stations on each bus.
The complimentary masks are being offered for transit passengers with aid from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Department of Homeland Security.
The agencies also collectively provided 1,500 masks for RTC employees.
Masks not optional for drivers either
Drivers, who work for Keolis North America, RTC’s operator, are required to wear masks or they will be sent home, RTC officials announced.
RTC’s announcement came in the wake of Teamsters Local 533 issuing complaints about Keolis and RTC for allegedly not following the governor’s mask mandate issued last week to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Teamsters represent the bus drivers and other personnel.
“What a difference a day makes,” said Teamsters spokesperson Andrew Barbano in response to RTC’s press release today. “Perhaps we’ve gone from grudging turnabout to a full 180, given the subcontractor’s (Keolis) previous stonewalling–which may not be over.”
Teamsters President Gary Watson last week accused local Keolis rep Abul Hassan of ignoring the governor’s mandate.
“Hassan has come up with a nit-pickety rationale for not enforcing the governor’s very sensible and very necessary order,” Watson said. “Hassan is treating masks as optional and told me that if people want one, they can go to either the Reno or Sparks downtown terminals during office hours and ask.
“However, not every passenger goes through those hubs. What’s wrong with drivers handing masks to passengers as they board?” Watson asked. “They’re not enforcing it. Now this is a safety concern.”
Keolis North America’s spokesperson said the company has been instituting safety precautions in accordance wither governor directives.
“Throughout these past few months and especially as we enter into Phase II of the Governor’s plan, we have implemented specific measures to provide our riders and employees the trust and confidence to continue to utilize RTC’s transit network,” said Henri Vies. “Keolis is committed to continue to provide safe and courteous service to the community and a healthy environment for our employees.”
Those measures include protective measures for employees, hand sanitizer on buses and sterilizing buses, equipment and facilities.
RTC officials said masks were required on busses effective June 26. Photos provided to This Is Reno, taken June 30, show not all passengers are following that mandate.
RTC’s downtown location also had signs today saying masks were recommended but not required.
“We recommend wearing face coverings,” signs at station entrances indicated.
Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive issued June 24 requires people wear masks in indoor public spaces and in other situations, including on public transit.
UPDATE: A statement from Keolis North America has been added to this story.