VIA works to avoid service changes due to rising COVID-19 cases among drivers

Operators and maintenance crews work overtime to pick up the slack

SAN ANTONIO – The union that represents VIA Metropolitan Transit’s bus operators and maintenance employees says a growing number of its members are calling out sick due to COVID-19. The transit agency is hoping the outbreak of the omicron variant doesn’t mean major service changes.

“What it means is that we, the operators, who are still working here and our maintenance employees who are still working and have not been out with the virus, it means ... that they have to work extra time, overtime,” said Juan Amaya, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 694.

Amaya said COVID-19 cases and quarantines had slowed to a trickle before the new year, but that changed in recent days. He blames the omicron variant.

VIA has already been dealing with staffing shortages caused by the pandemic and adjusted service levels in the fall to better match staffing and demand.

“We are continuously tracking local conditions and assessing staffing levels in order to make necessary adjustments that allow us to maintain safe service,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement to KSAT 12. “No immediate changes are planned as of now. Any changes that may be deemed necessary in the future will be temporary and designed to have minimal impact on our riders.”

Some previously planned service changes take effect on Monday.

Amaya said he’s advising his members and the community to have patience as everyone works through the latest COVID-19 surge.

“I want to make sure my operators and my maintenance employees are geared to be able to make service, but I am also worried about the community, not be able not being able to move them,” he said. “And so I’m asking also the community to please wear a mask. Please respect our operators. They’re trying to do their job, trying to move them throughout the city.”

Amaya said drivers have to be vaccinated or tested weekly. He said the vast majority of drivers are vaccinated.

The agency continues to provide free rides to COVID-19 vaccine sites. That includes the pop-up testing and vaccine clinic being hosted by the SA MLK Commission and Metro Health on Jan 17, announced after the cancellation of the annual MLK March. It will be held at Pittman-Sullivan Park and will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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About the Author:

Samuel King anchors traffic during GMSA and reports on transportation and mobility issues across the San Antonio region. He joined the KSAT 12 news team in 2020 from KUT in Austin. Samuel was born in Queens, spent time growing up in South Alabama and graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.