Winnipeg Transit disinfecting buses, getting new equipment to fight coronavirus

Winnipeg Transit now says it is taking extra steps to clean its fleet of 640 buses, but the union representing transit workers says more still needs to be done.

City announced new measures Saturday, after earlier saying no extra measures were being taken to clean fleet

Winnipeg Transit will now use a hospital-grade disinfectant to wipe down its buses, but it's still unclear whether all buses will be cleaned every day. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Winnipeg Transit is now taking measures to disinfect its buses after facing criticism for being unprepared for the arrival of COVID-19 in Manitoba.

On Thursday, the city said it wasn't taking any extra cleaning measures on its fleet in light of three presumptive cases and one confirmed case of the coronavirus identified in the province as of Friday afternoon.

On Saturday morning, though, the city said the transit system is instituting an enhanced cleaning program immediately.

Staff will begin sanitizing "high-touch points" inside buses using ES65H — the same hospital-grade disinfectant Toronto's public transit system started using on its buses early last week.

"We anticipate this program will ramp up quickly," city emergency operations centre manager Jason Shaw said at a news conference Saturday morning.

Shaw said the city is getting new sanitizing equipment and training staff on how to use it. He could not provide details about what kind of equipment is coming or when it will arrive.

He also could not say definitively how often buses will be wiped down with the disinfectant, but that the city will provide more information when it becomes available.

"Transit's currently working on a schedule to make sure all buses are cleaned effectively and efficiently," he said.

A city spokesperson said Winnipeg Transit is also in the process of installing ads inside buses to remind people how to properly wash their hands.

The announcement came following a meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the plans with the union that represents Winnipeg Transit staff, the spokesperson said.

Steps encourage, but not enough: union

A statement from Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 president Romeo Ignacio Saturday morning said the new procedures are a step in the right direction, but he still wants to see more serious measures implemented — like the overnight disinfecting spray-downs that Toronto's transit system has hired a contractor to do.

"While we are concerned that Transit did not proactively address this issue with our members and the public, we are encouraged to see that they are beginning to take steps to keep our riders and members safe," he said.

The city's proposed 2020 budget also calls for a reduction in the transit system's cleaning staff, city council's public works committee heard Thursday evening. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Ignacio said the union is encouraging transit drivers to be allowed to wear personal protective equipment like face masks and gloves on the job. He said the union also asked for hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to be provided to all members to keep their work areas clean.

Shaw said Winnipeg Transit is not currently requiring its staff to wear masks or gloves while driving.

"I think we're working with that right now and I can tell you it's not recommended, because we want to save the masks and supply of masks for our healthcare professionals, responders and for those that are sick that may require them," he said. "If you're healthy, and you're at work, you don't need to be wearing a mask."

Proposed cuts to cleaning staff

The 640 buses in Winnipeg Transit's fleet are typically given an internal soap-and-water wash with a pressure hose every three months, said a source with knowledge of Transit, who CBC has agreed not to name.

There is also a process called a mini-wipe, which a crew of three people does each night. It involves disinfectant wipe-downs, but only of the driver's area. About 45 buses per night are able to be treated, the source told CBC.

The city's proposed 2020 budget also calls for a reduction in the transit system's cleaning staff, city council's public works committee heard Thursday evening.

Transit plans to save $208,000 by reducing how often the buses are cleaned. It also plans to save $500,000 by reducing the frequency of cleaning bus shelters. That means one cleaner will be responsible for maintaining 120 shelters, instead of 90, the committee heard on Thursday.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Jason Shaw, manager of the city's emergency operations centre, are holding a news conference at 10 a.m. Saturday to provide updates on the city's response to COVID-19.

With files from Darren Bernhardt and Sean Kavanagh