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Hazard pay sought for RTA bus drivers

The RTA estimates that 75 to 80 percent of riders are wearing masks.

NEW ORLEANS — Ridership on New Orleans' buses and streetcars is picking up again as the city slowly opens up again.

RTA CEO Alex Wiggins on Wednesday told the City Council’s Transportation Committee that about 80 percent of its ridership has returned. That's led to changes designed to make rides safer for bus drivers, streetcar operators and passengers.

Everyone is now asked to wear a mask or some other covering over his or her face.

“Anecdotally, it's probably 75 to 80 percent of customers are wearing face coverings in the field,” Wiggins said.

He said there's little a driver can do if someone refuses to wear a mask, but the agency says it's doing what it can to protect drivers.

“We installed plexiglass barriers on the buses to actually shield them from inadvertent coughing and sneezing,” Wiggins said. The cost of that work is being covered in part by $43 million in CARES Act cash. The agency got that money since it gets most of its operating revenue from sales taxes, which have plummeted.Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, the Transportation Committee’s chairwoman, asked Wiggins if any of the federal money can be used to provide RTA employees, such as drivers, with hazard pay.

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“Is that something y'all are looking at?” she asked. "We are going to uncover every stone to find funding for hazard pay,” Wiggins said. “I met with the union leadership this morning to talk about that very same issue. And we're going to make it retroactive.” 

Palmer asked if CARES Act money could be used to help cover hazard pay.Wiggins said that's a possibility, but that federal cash will likely have to go toward day-to-day operations first since the agency expects a shortfall of up to $40 million.

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