Staff Report #3
June 24, 2020
To All Commissioners
Re: COVID 19 Pandemic Response
The report be NOTED and FILED.
As set out in Staff Report #1 – Pandemic Response Plan, dated May 27, 2020, in light of the pandemic declaration in March of 2020, followed by an extended period of responding to issues as they arose, a Pandemic Response Plan was developed in an effort to navigate the organization through not only the pandemic period, but also the period following. The Plan will be an iterative document, intended to guide the organization through the crisis and back to the place it was prior to the pandemic. The Plan breaks down the path to recovery into three primary phases:
- Resolve – assess issues as they arise in an effort to maintain services;
- Resiliency – reassess decisions made in the Resolve phase and implement practices and policies that will ensure resiliency going forward as the pandemic situation continues to evolve; and
- Rebuild – establish a transit system that has responded to the challenges created by the pandemic and its lasting effects including shifts in ridership patterns, levels and expectations; public health expectations relating to the safety of employees and riders; availability of funding from all levels of government; and community priorities
Currently, the organization is considered to be in the Resolve phase of the plan, as recommendations and directives from the Province are changing on an almost daily basis; however, some of the issues that have been addressed in this phase are already being revisited based on new information or direction.
Over the past several weeks, the Province has begun to loosen restrictions in effort to restart the economy, the most notable being the following:
- May 16, 2020 – Provincial parks and conservation areas, golf courses and marinas were allowed to open across the Province, providing compliance with associated guidelines and recommendations for re-opening safely;
- May 19, 2020 – retailers with street-side access, seasonal businesses and health and community service providers were allowed to reopen across the Province, providing compliance with associated guidelines and recommendations for re-opening safely;
- May 20, 2020 – Province announces strong encouragement for use of masks/facial coverings for all when in public (including specific reference to public transit) and when physical distancing is not possible;
- June 12, 2020 – in specific areas of the Province, including London, social gathering limits increased from five to 10, places of worship, outdoor restaurants, shopping malls, water recreation, beach areas, public camping, tour and guide services, were all allowed to reopen, providing compliance with associated guidelines and recommendations for re-opening safely; and
- June 15, 2020 – childcare and daycare services allowed to reopen, providing compliance with associated guidelines and recommendations for re-opening safely
One of the common denominators in the aforementioned series of announcements, is the accompanying release of guidance materials with respect to the steps required for a business to safely operate given current public health conditions. Public transit services have continued to operate throughout the pandemic period, as encouraged by both Provincial and Federal governments in recognition of the important role transit plays in maintaining access to communities as well as ensuring a reliable mode of travel to and from the workplace for essential workers. As indicated earlier in this report, transit systems across the country continued to operate throughout the pandemic period, and responded to issues as they were best able, in many cases, looking to one-another for best practices when responding to issues as they arose.
On June 11, 2020, the Province released a Guidance document for public transit providers and passengers in response to COVID-19. The document makes clear that it is a guidance document only, and that individual transit systems will need to assess local circumstances when considering and developing local approaches. This document was released at a time when transit agencies were beginning to reassess actions taken earlier, and looking to begin to revoke some of the measures taken including but not limited to moving back to front door boarding and fare collection. The remainder of the report provides an overview of the key themes in the guidance document as well as commentary with respect to the actions London Transit has taken to date and plans going forward.
Transit Employers – Communication to Employees and Reporting Requirements
This section of the Guidance document includes reference to the requirements of the employer to communicate COVID-19 related policies, infection prevention and control policies and procedures, information regarding PPE, how workers/contractors report illness, how to encourage physical distancing and how work will be scheduled to employees. In addition, this section outlines requirements specific to reporting positive employee cases to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Communication with employees has been a key consideration from the onset of the pandemic declaration. COVID-19 Bulletin boards were installed at all LTC facilities and limited to posting of information regarding the pandemic and related policies, procedures, etc. In addition, internal communication screens, posters, messages attached to Operator cards and messages on the on-board mobile data terminal were all used in an effort to get important information out to the workforce as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Transit Employers – Excluding Symptomatic Workers from the Workplace
This section of the Guidance document includes steps that employers should take with respect to ensuring symptomatic workers do not attend the workplace. Communication with respect to employer expectations have been posted and shared with LTC employees from the onset of the pandemic declaration and continue to remain in effect.
Transit Employers – Physical Distancing for Employees
This section of the Guidance document provides details on measures that should be taken, wherever possible, in an effort to provide for physical distancing between employees in the workplace. A number of policies and procedures have been implemented over the past 14 weeks in an effort to ensure the ability for employees to physical distancing including, but not limited to the following:
- altered shift start/stop times in garage
- limits on capacity of meeting rooms
- limits on capacity of lunch rooms
- management/ATU presence reminding of need for physical distancing in the workplace
- elimination of face to face meetings whenever possible
- installation of plexiglass barriers where applicable
- encourage employees to remain in their own areas
- desks moved and barriers installed to ensure physical distancing
- move to rear door boarding and installation of bungee cords on buses to ensure physical distancing between bus operators and riders
The Guidance document indicates that, where physical distancing between employees and the public is not possible, transit employers should consider the use of a physical partition. This recommendation would apply to consideration for returning to front door boarding and fare collection. At the April 17, 2020 meeting, the Commission approved the purchase of operator barriers for the bus fleet. These barriers are scheduled to begin arriving the week of July 13, 2020 and are scheduled to be installed upon arrival. Given the requirement for detailed measurements and prototyping for a portion of the bus fleet prior to ordering the remaining barriers, it is not anticipated the total fleet will be equipped with the approved barriers until October. Given the desire to return to front-door boarding and fare collection as soon as possible, Administration will continue to work with the Province, other transit systems, public health, and Joint Health and Safety Committee on the assessment of other measures that could be put in place on an interim basis that would provide the ability to return to front door boarding while at the same time provide adequate protection for bus Operators, noting any alternative retrofit to the bus that would be considered would need to be compliant with applicable Federal and Provincial legislation and not interfere with or affect the safe operation of the bus.
Transit Employers – Cleaning and Disinfecting Measures
This section of the Guidance document provides examples of items/areas that should be subject to specific procedures with respect to increased cleaning and disinfecting measures in the workplace as it relates to employees. The following provides an overview of the measures that have been established for LTC facilities as well as the Operator area of the bus, noting all of these measures will be the subject of monthly health and safety audits to ensure adherence and allow for any necessary adjustments.
- enhanced cleaning of high-touch points, washrooms etc.
- propping open doors where possible/installation of hands-free door openers
- signage encouraging frequent hand washing
- additional clean-up time provided for Fleet and Facilities employees to sanitize their tools and work areas prior to leaving
- on-board cleaning supplies for bus Operators to utilize at shift change to clean the Operator area
- hand sanitizer provided to all bus Operators and made available throughout LTC facilities
- mandatory use of hand sanitizer for bus Operators after securing/unsecuring a mobility device
- protocols for cleaning of shared workstations where applicable
- restricted access for visitors to LTC facilities – completion of screening form required
- communication at all facility entrances reminding employees not to enter the workplace if they are ill
The Guidance document also makes reference to the manner in which payment for service should be collected, specifically encouraging the use of contactless payment where possible in an effort to avoid handling of cash or paper products. The smart card technology in place provides riders with the option of contactless payment, and those choosing to pay by cash or ticket can do so directly into the fare box without the need for the Operator to intervene. The issuance of paper transfers is considered problematic as the return to fare collection is being considered, and administration is assessing options that could be put in place to mitigate this issue, including the following:
- eliminating the 90 minute transfer for those paying with cash or ticket, noting transfers are automatically loaded onto smart cards;
- identifying a method for riders to retrieve a transfer on their own
These options will be further assessed and practices at other transit systems that are returning to fare collection will be reviewed noting a recommended approach going forward will be included in as a staff recommendation at the time the recommendation to return to fare collection is tabled.
Transit Employers – General
In addition to the above topics, the Guidance document includes a number of other recommended actions for transit employers. This document, as well as others released by the Province with respect to employer responsibilities are being reviewed in detail, and policies and procedures are being updated as necessary. Policy revisions and associated practices will be dealt with through the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee as warranted.
The following section of this report deals with the provisions in the Guidance document that apply to transit providers, in most cases, in terms of expectations for protecting transit riders.
Physical Distancing for Passengers
The Guidance document indicates that, in an effort to enable physical distancing on transit, providers should consider scheduling services to reduce crowding, consider allowing additional boarding time, consider limiting seating on transit vehicles and consider installing physical barriers between passengers.
As set out in Staff Report #4 – COVID-19 Service and Ridership Impacts, dated June 24, 2020, currently all conventional routes are monitored for higher ridership loads in excess of 15 riders (which does not provide for two metre distancing) and where resources are available, additional buses are being deployed to spread riders out over more buses. LTC is not currently limiting loads, rather leaving the decision to the rider whether to board the bus. Should load limits be put into effect, it is anticipated that many riders will be passed by at stops leaving them with no access to transit service. In an effort to address crowding concerns being experienced, two express routes (90, and 91) will resume operating beginning June 29, 2020.
Use of Face Masks When Physical Distancing is Not Feasible
The Guidance document indicates that the use of face coverings, particularly when physical distancing is not feasible should be encouraged. Beginning late May, riders have been strongly encouraged to wear face masks/coverings while using public transit services.
Several transit systems in the GTA, as well as Ottawa have made the use of face masks mandatory, however they are not enforcing this requirement. This approach supports the advice from the Canadian Medical Officer of Health with respect to mask use, noting those with medical conditions and/or those unable to remove the mask on their own, cannot be mandated to wear one.
Beginning the week of June 22, 2020 external bus announcements will be reminding riders that masks are strongly encouraged, and on-board posters will be installed indicating same. Corporate social media accounts will also continue to reinforce this messaging, which is consistent with that being provided by the Middlesex London Health Unit.
Availability of Hand Sanitizer On-board Vehicles (for Passenger Use)
The Guidance document suggests that transit systems consider making hand sanitizer available, where practical and possible, and where it is not possible, to encourage passengers to carry and use their own sanitizer when riding transit.
Administration is assessing this recommendation in cooperation with the Ontario Public Transit Association, noting there are a number of operational concerns including the availability of supply, the congestion that will be created upon boarding the bus, the potential hazards that will be created on board as puddles form under the dispenser and the ability to keep dispensers full with buses that are on the road for 18 hours per day.
At this time, LTC is recommending that transit riders bring their own hand sanitizer for use as they deem appropriate. The new on-board posters being installed the week of June 22, 2020 also include reference to this recommendation.
Enhanced Cleaning of all High Touch Areas On-board Buses
The Guidance document suggests that transit systems implement cleaning protocols for buses that include increased cleaning/sanitization of all high touch areas on board buses.
All LTC buses continue to be subject to enhanced cleaning nightly as they return to the garage, noting the cleaning protocol was developed with input from the Joint Health & Safety Committee. Over the past month, additional options with respect to cleaning and disinfecting have begun to make their way to market. The Ontario Public Transit Association is monitoring these advances, and the business committee members have established a COVID-19 directory of the services and products that they are currently offering with respect to COVID-19 related issues. Administration will continue to monitor these activities in effort to identify and implement new strategies as may be appropriate.
The remaining recommendations set out in the Guidance document will be reviewed and assessed for applicability and adoption as deemed necessary.
Resiliency Phase of Pandemic Response Plan
While the organization continues to be considered in the Resolve phase, given the rapid pace of change that has been experienced with respect to COVID-19 related recommendations, it can be anticipated that all actions taken to date will be subject to review and reconsideration. This process is covered in the Resiliency phase of the Pandemic Response Plan, noting review of the many responses has already occurred.
Administration will continue to provide updates with respect to the Pandemic Response Plan and actions taken to date.
Mike Gregor, Director of Finance
Shawn Wilson, Director of Operations
Joanne Galloway, Director of Human Resources
Craig Morneau, Director of Fleet & Facilities
Katie Burns, Director of Planning
Concurred in by:
Kelly S. Paleczny, General Manager