In response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, all ”high touch” points on city buses and handi-vans will now be wiped down nightly with disinfectants as an extra level of precaution, according to Roger Morton, president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services.
City officials said all public transit vehicles are routinely cleaned, but the enhanced cleaning procedure was announced Friday morning just hours before state officials confirmed Hawaii’s first case of coronavirus.
“Like you, we are closely watching the COVID-19 virus around the world and in the U.S.,” said Morton.
Oahu Transit Services is using two disinfectants — commonly known as “germ swipe” and “germ wipe” — which are on a list that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released for use against COVID-19.
These enhanced cleaning procedures have actually been in place since Jan. 29 for TheBus and TheHandi-Van, according to Morton.
In addition to the fare box, workers will be disinfecting the driver’s area, all stanchion bars, hanging straps, and grab rails along the backs of seats as well as door entrances and exits on a nightly basis.
But Morton said riders also play a part in preventing the spread of viruses.
“It’s important that our riders understand that these surfaces are clean only until someone touches them or coughs or sneezes on them, so we need everyone’s kokua,” he said. “We urge all of our customers to stay home when sick and to avoid riding public transit until they are better.”
If they absolutely have to ride public transit, said Morton, and have a respiratory illness such as the common cold or flu, he asks that they wear face masks to help prevent spreading viruses to others.
In addition, riders can help by frequently washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to boarding a public transportation vehicle — a habit everyone should practice at all times.
City officials are also advising people not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, to cover coughs and sneezes, especially while on public transit, and to avoid touching others when possible, including handshakes and other greeting gestures.
TheBus carries about 180,000 passengers per day, while TheHandi-Van carries about 4,000 per day on weekdays, according to Morton. The busiest routes include routes 1, 2, and 17.
So far, Morton said no one has been denied a ride on the bus, nor has there been a discernible drop in ridership, due to coronavirus fears.
He acknowledged that a drop in ridership due to the outbreak, however, was very much a possibility, and that everybody, including riders and TheBus employees, would have to make their own personal decisions on what to do.
Wayne Kaululaau, president of Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers Local 996, which represents about 2,000 workers on TheBus and TheHandi-Van, said right now, there are concerns, but management has reassured them that everything possible is being done to keep the transit vehicles clean and safe. A discussion on sick leave terms is currently underway.
Morton said TheBus will continue to follow advice from the state Health Department and federal officials while discussing best practices with national transit peers on the U.S. mainland in its preparation for coronavirus.
TheBus has a fleet of 550 buses, and 205 Handi-Vans.