To get our region moving again, RTD is fabricating see-through shields for its buses
With COVID-19-related safety concerns top of mind for both RTD riders and RTD employees, the agency is in final testing of see-through shields separating operators from passengers as the metro-area economy reopens and ridership increases.
RTD has already road-tested a small number of the shields on regularly scheduled bus routes, and the agency’s body shop is tweaking the ultimate design in response to feedback from the operators of those routes. Once a final design is approved, RTD will begin larger orders of parts and in-house production of the custom shields, then will begin mounting them in buses in the coming weeks.
The shields are meant to address a key concern of both operators and passengers, as operators under normal front-door boarding rules come into close contact with hundreds of passengers a day. Since April, RTD has allowed rear-door boarding and suspended fare collection across the system. The agency will resume fare collection and front-boarding July 1.
RTD riders told the agency in a survey earlier this month that they remain apprehensive about riding buses or trains as the pandemic continues. In the survey, close to 2,700 people said they felt the least safe using public transit, compared to several other activities that included grocery shopping, visiting other people and exercising outside.
Bus and equipment manufacturers are offering similar shields for sale, but they are charging anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 apiece, said David Ober, RTD’s assistant general superintendent of maintenance. The agency’s preliminary work has shown they can be produced in-house for about $400 each, he said.
Fabricating something new from scratch is rarely simple. The RTD engineer in charge of this project, Andrew Merlino, could not use plexiglass because of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards strength requirements. The material used, ⅜-inch-thick polycarbonate, is a clear product that provides maximum visibility. These facts – along with minimizing the amount of glare that the operator might be subjected to – had to be taken into consideration in selecting the material.
Shields must fit around operator consoles and fare boxes and provide enough room for operators to move their arms when turning a vehicle. The shields had to be designed with ADA requirements in mind, ensuring that they don’t stick out into the pathway of wheelchairs making the left turn from the entrance into the body of the bus.
RTD oversees more than 1,000 individual buses in its metro system, one of the largest transit operations in the nation. Hundreds of those buses are operated by private contractors. Shields will be installed in those vehicles as well, with RTD turning over parts and instructions in kits to the contractors for installation.
The shield effort adds to previous in-house safety campaigns during the pandemic, including thousands of face coverings for operators and other employees that were designed and made on upholstery shop machinery, purchased from vendors or donated by companies and the public. RTD staff have also gone to great lengths to secure backup supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizing chemicals and other key items in short supply.