Medicine aisle at Target taken on March 13, 2020. J.Starcic
As I write this, it has been two weeks since I started working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, and five days since the governor of my home state of California issued a statewide stay-at-home order. I know that I am very lucky to have the type of job that allows me to work from home, especially at a time when keeping a safe distance from other people is critical. During this crisis, people whose jobs are deemed “essential,” don’t have that luxury. They must continue to work in their day-to-day environments, which includes operators of buses, motorcoaches, and trains.
Appreciating ‘essential’ workers
We take it for granted that these “essential” workers wake up early every day to take us to our jobs, medical appointments, school, supermarket, conference, party, or tour. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a crisis for us to appreciate things. When panic surrounding the coronavirus began to ramp up in my area, I’ll admit, I was right there with everyone else stockpiling up on whatever was left at Target and Trader Joe’s (not much). It was during these bouts of panic-shopping, watching workers hurriedly restocking empty shelves or cashiers scanning stacks of frozen dinners and canned soup at the register that I realized how essential these workers were to my life. We need to be thankful and appreciative of the services these and all other essential workers provide us during these uncertain, and downright scary, times.
To help us get through this, we need to hear stories of hope and solidarity. In other words, good news. During a recent APTA Town Hall, Chad Ballentine, VP, demand response for Capital Metro in Austin, Texas, shared how his agency partnered with a local grocery store and food bank to deliver donated food to ADA paratransit customers having difficulty getting to stores to buy basic necessities during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was heartbreaking to hear some of our most vulnerable customers telling us that they are hungry,” Ballentine said.
Using its MetroAccess vehicles, operators deliver groceries to 180 people per day, which equates to more than 4,100 meals worth of groceries each day. “We are hearing from our vehicle operators that making these deliveries has been an immense boost to their happiness during a time when it is so easy to focus on the negative,” Ballentine said.
In addition to going the extra mile for the community during this difficult time, Capital Metro has also implemented supportive programs for its employees. “We are guaranteeing at least three weeks of additional sick leave for anyone directly impacted by COVID-19, either themselves or someone in their household,” Ballentine said. This includes contractors and even their subcontractors. The agency is also starting a support program for everyone in the Capital Metro family that will address concerns such as social isolation, shortage of household supplies, pet-sitting, general wellness advice, or even a fellow employee to talk to during these times when people are feeling alone, he explained.
Much like trees that survive and thrive after a devastating wildfire, so too will America and its network of transportation providers — better, stronger, and more resilient. Getty Images/jotily
Better, stronger, more resilient
It is actions like these that will help sustain us through this crisis. Hopefully one day soon, I can write a column about how the transportation industry is recovering from the impacts. Much like trees that survive and thrive after a devastating wildfire, so too will America and its network of transportation providers — better, stronger, and more resilient. In the meantime, take care, stay safe, and, thank you for your service.
Janna Starcic is the executive editor of METRO Magazine.