The Sunset Empire Transportation District, trying to manage through a bus driver shortage, has postponed a decision on whether to require vaccinations against the coronavirus.
The transit district’s board has discussed a vaccine mandate since July. In August, the board decided to push back the decision until this month. At Thursday morning’s meeting, they tabled it again.
Jeff Hazen, the transit district’s executive director, said nine of the district’s 26 bus drivers are unvaccinated. After surveying them, Hazen said he expects to lose all nine if vaccinations are required.
The transit district has made cuts and reductions to several routes due to the lack of drivers and an inability to recruit new ones. If they lose the unvaccinated drivers, Hazen said, the district would have to make more cuts.
“We haven’t put a pencil to it yet, but it would be as much or more than what we already did,” he said. “It would be very significant.”
Hazen, who said he would prefer to wait and see if the state mandates vaccinations for transit workers, understands the board has a tough decision to make.
“I am concerned about the drivers that are not getting vaccinated, for their health,” said Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, the board chairwoman. “At this point, it is their decision. I would hate to cut services, too, and I am afraid that’s what would happen if we did make it mandatory.”
While Hazen is unsure of the feasibility, the board brought up the possibility of frequent COVID-19 testing for the unvaccinated. Several commissioners also added they should, at the very least, be taking drivers’ temperatures before they get on buses.
As the board weighs a vaccine mandate, they placed confidence in the protocols on buses.
“So far, we have been doing a very good job at continuously cleaning the buses, having that barrier that separates the drivers from our riders also, they are 6 feet apart,” Commissioner Diana Niño said. “There are all of these things that we have already put in place.”
Hazen, along with a number of commissioners, noted that while they are vaccinated, they understand that people have their own choices to make.
“Yes, I am vaccinated. I am all for vaccinations but, like the sentiment that has been shared, I don’t want to put anyone in the position of having to quit because of this and us losing service, losing drivers and also disrupting this family that Jeff has talked about,” Niño said. “We have had such a rough almost two years and this would just continue to bring down morale.
“They have been working six days a week. Our drivers have been troupers and people have choice. We also have to respect that.”