Lawrence bus service to reduce campus routes, causing some driver layoffs
photo by: Associated Press
The coronavirus outbreak has caused local bus routes to reduce their service and some bus drivers have been asked to leave their jobs.
To help control the spread of COVID-19, the University of Kansas canceled all in-person classes for the spring semester and suspended all nonessential research activity. Transit and Parking Manager Adam Weigel said in an email to the Journal-World that KU On Wheels decided to reduce all KU and KU-city routes due to the drastic reduction in ridership as a result of the suspension of the school year and most students leaving campus housing.
The City of Lawrence and KU coordinate their bus service, which is handled through a contract with First Transit. The route reduction will go into effect beginning Monday, and representatives of the local union said First Transit informed drivers of layoffs on Friday. Justin Priest, the president-business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local #1754, said in an email to the Journal-World Friday that First Transit is starting with a “voluntary layoff.” He said First Transit has not told the union how many of the approximately 160 employees will be laid off.
When asked if the service reduction means that the City of Lawrence will pay First Transit less money for the contract this year, Weigel said the reduction will not affect the contracted service between the city and First Transit. However, he said KU and First Transit will continue discussing the impact of reduced service and determine a path forward that is fair for all parties.
Weigel said that the city is not directly involved in First Transit layoff decisions and that it is the responsibility of the contractor to maintain an adequate number of operators to deliver the service. He said the city, KU and First Transit have a positive partnership and the city hoped to do what it could to offer support.
“Although First Transit operators are not direct city employees, they are part of our community, and we hope to do everything we can during this challenging time to support First Transit and their operators,” Weigel said. “We know that once we get through our community response, we will need operators to be part of ramping back up our service to normal levels.”
First Transit General Manager Ginger Doll did not immediately return a voicemail from the Journal-World on Friday afternoon seeking details about the service reductions, layoffs and any precautions being taken regarding COVID-19.
Weigel said to keep buses as safe as possible for drivers and passengers, they are disinfected nightly and high-touch surfaces are being disinfected throughout the day, as often as feasible between bus trips. He added that the city urges passengers to only take essential trips to stay healthy and maintain a 6-foot distance from other passengers on board if possible to limit the spread of COVID-19.
For his part, Priest said that the union has been taking steps to learn about the virus since the announcement of the first potential case in Lawrence. That patient ultimately tested negative for the virus on Feb. 1. Priest said a union representative went to the local health department at that time seeking someone to address members, and an information meeting was held last month.
“Since the first possible local exposure we have been proactive for the sake of our riders, our community and our members,” Priest said.
Weigel said that beginning Monday, the bus service will provide what is called the B-level service, which is the service typically run during the summer and extended university holidays. He said B-level service has no impact on city-only routes, but reduces frequency on KU-city routes and KU-only routes. Specifically, the reduced service includes operation of routes 1-10, 15, 11B, 29B, and a modified KU Campus circulator service. More details about the service are available at Lawrencetransit.org/routes.
Another bus service that serves Lawrence and area campuses has also been reduced due to the pandemic and the subsequent closing of campuses for in-person classes. The K-10 Connector, which runs along Kansas Highway 10 and includes stops at KU’s Lawrence and Edwards campuses and Johnson County Community College, also announced on Friday that it would be reducing its service down to its summer schedule beginning Monday.
The K-10 Connector announcement states that until further notice the bus will operate hourly during rush hour, instead of every half hour during the regular schedule. Night service will operate every two hours instead of every hour. The K-10 Connector is also taking precautions due to COVID-19, including not collecting fares to limit contact between driver and rider and to speed boarding and limit contact between riders as they board. The service is also requiring distance between riders and ongoing sanitation. Drivers have been issued nitrile and/or latex gloves and hand sanitizer.