L.A. Metro bus driver dies of complications from COVID-19

Laura J. Nelson
The Metro driver worked out of the bus yard across the street from Union Station.  (Los Angeles Times)

A Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus driver has died of complications from COVID-19, Los Angeles County officials said Friday.

The driver, whose name has not been released, died Thursday, union officials said. He last worked in mid-May, driving a route out of Division 13, the bus yard across the street from Union Station.

He worked for Metro for 23 years, said John M. Ellis, the general chairman of the bus driver's union, SMART-TD GO-875.

"Many of you knew him," Ellis wrote in a letter to the thousands of drivers represented by the union. "We share the sadness felt by those who worked with him. His presence will be sorely missed."

The driver is the first Metro employee to die of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. A security guard who was a contractor for Metro died April 13.

"This is a heartbreaking day for all Metro employees as we continue to face this grave public health threat," said Metro Chief Executive Phil Washington in a prepared statement.

The death toll for transit workers across the U.S. has reached almost 200, including nearly 130 deaths in New York. Dozens of those workers drove buses, New York transit officials said.

Locally, a bus driver died in Santa Clarita in April. Metro has 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees, contractors and vendors. Of those cases, more than two dozen are bus drivers, according to the most recent data available.

The fear of contracting the disease has dogged bus drivers, who are spending hours per day in an enclosed space with strangers, wondering whether this will be the day they get sick.

During the first two months of the pandemic, drivers said they feared for their health because many riders were not wearing masks and bus yards faced periodic shortages of masks, hand sanitizer and other protective gear.

After an outcry from drivers and a push from elected officials, Metro made masks mandatory for all riders on May 11. Officials had resisted the rule until then, saying they could face civil rights issues if the rule were enforced against someone with a disability or who had difficulty breathing.

More than 90% of riders are now wearing masks, officials say.