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Dayton RTA takes pride in continuing operations

Dayton RTA bus driver Juan Jones drives on Monday, March 30, 2020, in Dayton. David Jablonski/Staff
Dayton RTA bus driver Juan Jones drives on Monday, March 30, 2020, in Dayton. David Jablonski/Staff

Veteran driver says it’s business as usual with extra precautions

For the most part in recent weeks, the routine has not changed for Juan Jones, who has driven buses for Greater Dayton RTA for 15 years. He has noticed fewer riders and less traffic on the roads since Gov. Mike DeWine issued the stay-at-home order March 22. He also has seen more gratitude from the riders.

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“I get a lot of people that come up to me and thank us that we’re still running,” Jones said, “because otherwise a lot of people wouldn’t be able to get to the store to buy their groceries or pharmaceutical needs, and some of them just want to get out because they’ve got cabin fever and feel trapped.”

RTA has continued running all its routes during the COVID-19 crisis and has no plans to change. It sees itself as an essential business and takes pride in continuing operations.

“Greater Dayton RTA is here to serve our community,” read a recent post on its Facebook page. “You can count on us to be there when you need us.”

RTA has taken steps to keep drivers and riders safe, asking people to spread out on buses. That’s easier to do because ridership has declined by 40 percent during the week, though it remains steadier on weekends. On an average day before this pandemic, the RTA transported 30,000 people per day.

An increased focus on hygiene has also been a priority. Bob Ruzinsky, RTA's deputy CEO, said had some inkling this was coming because he has a friend in China, so he started building up a supply of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant before the coronavirus cases started spreading in Ohio.

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“I was proud that we were able to give our employees these things,” Ruzinsky said. “Now, of course, it’s not like they can throw them away. They need to continue to use them and clean them and whatnot. But at least they’ve all been given something.”

Local support also has helped. The Belle of Dayton Distillery, which has started producing hand sanitizer, donated one of its first batches to RTA: 320 bottles in all. Ashley's Nails, a salon in Dayton, donated masks.

Ruzinsky ordered 1,500 bandanas on Amazon.com when he saw a news story about doctors using them. The bandanas serve as an additional layer of protection on top of the masks.

Jones wears gloves when he drives and will put on a mask or bandana if he sees a crowd of people at a bus stop. When he gets home at the end of a shift, he comes into his garage, takes off his shoes, goes straight to his basement, takes off his clothes and then showers before he does anything in the house. His wife is a nurse and was well aware of what he needed to do to reduce the risk of bringing the virus home.

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Ruzinsky and CEO Mark Donaghy put out almost daily memos for the 700 employees explaining what’s going on in the company and what they’re doing to keep people safe. Like the riders thanking the drivers, Ruzinsky has made extra effort to thank his employees since this pandemic began.

“They’re the backbone of what we do,” Ruzinsky said. “We’re just so proud of them. In a time of tragedy like this, there’s an incredible sense of pride we have in our staff right now.”

No drivers have gotten sick yet, Ruzinsky said, and driver attendance in the past two weeks has been better than it has been in years.

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To limit the risk of spreading infections, buses have a new yellow line on the floor to increase distance between the driver and riders. Dayton RTA also has asked riders not to ride if they’re sick and to be “fare ready.” It lists three tips on its Facebook page.

1. Have your fare in hand before the bus doors open.

2. Use exact change and have it ready.

3. Use a bus pass for quicker boarding.

Ruzinsky praised the cleaning crews, which have been getting help from people in other departments, for spending extra time on buses. They double hand-wipe every touchable surface and then spray a misting disinfectant inside the buses. When they’re done, they put a tag on the buses to let the drivers know the bus has been sanitized.

“We know it’s been cleaned when we take it out of the garage, and that does make me more confident,” Jones said. “I haven’t really felt I’ve been in danger. It’s kind of like business as usual in a way except you take extra precautions.”