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Rolling along to provide essential travel

Rolling along to provide essential travel

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SMTS

SMTS currently serves 21 counties, providing rides to citizens of all ages and walks of life.

Through these uncertain times SMTS plans to continue providing services for essential travel.

"Transportation is a lot like water and electricity," SMTS Executive Director Denny Ward said. "Until you don't have it, you take it for granted."

Ward said effective March 20, SMTS will provide services to those who fall in the essential categories such as dialysis appointments, medical appointments, essential shopping, workshop transportation, confirmed social welfare program appointments and home bound meal delivery.

"SMTS will also be limiting the number of passengers on each vehicle to facilitate the recommended social distancing," Ward said. "We will post diagrams on the vehicles that indicate which seats are available for passengers and which must remain empty to provide a comfortable distance between passengers."

Ward said they will also be extending hours to accommodate special "senior shopping hours" which have been posted in many cities and counties. 

"During this time frame of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are telling our employees that it is okay to ask simple questions about current health conditions related to flu-like symptoms," Ward said. "COVID-19 Pandemic is creating a lot of concern across the country, and it is our objective to keep everyone utilizing our service safe."

Ward said SMTS requires all passengers to be fever free for 24 hours without the use of a fever reducing medication before they ride.

"As many agencies, dental offices, service agencies and public buildings have closed, the demand for those stops have ceased to exist," Ward said. "In addition, the general public is choosing to self-quarantine, especially our elderly population."

Ward said the demand for transportation has declined due to COVID-19 changes but that SMTS is dedicated to its employees and its patrons.

"With increased closings and additional choices to self-quarantine, our employees have, will and are going to continue to lose hours," Ward said. "SMTS was granted permission to utilize our vehicles in the delivery of meals to the communities we serve, so we will make that known and hope to be able to assist in this outreach plus gain some hours for our drivers."

Ward said employees who wished to "self-quarantine" were asked to volunteer to do so now, and begin the 14 day process. He said the remaining driving force equally shared the hours.

"SMTS will strive to not only retain our employees, but do our very best to ensure that they can earn at least part-time status pay," Ward said. "Drivers will be given the opportunity to clean vehicles as part of their earned income hours. This will include routine bus washing on an as needed basis."

Ward said SMTS has been in touch with Federal Transit Administration, MoDOT's Transit Division, Community Transportation Association of America and Missouri Public Transportation Association and has participated in two town hall type meetings, expressing the need for Rural Public Transit to be part of the stimulus package. 

"We are very hopeful that all hours worked will not change, but have no guarantee of that right now," Ward said. "It will be our goal and objective to maintain business as usual, but only time will tell if this is possible."

Ward said SMTS is under contract with many service agencies, and should those agencies decide to reduce or discontinue service during the height of this pandemic, we must comply.

"Becky Hunt from our local Health Department is absolutely one of the best in the state, as far as I'm concerned," Ward said. "She provided us with a two page informational sheet that we could duplicate and place in the hands of all passengers utilizing our service. In addition she personally came to my office and discussed the best practices for sanitization and frequency of such on our vehicles."

Ward said Hunt has been very supportive, and SMTS has had similar experiences in the other 20 counties they provide services in.

"I will add that because we always try to support our local businesses in all 21 counties by buying our necessary cleaning and household supplies locally," Ward said. "This unnecessary hoarding has made it a challenge to find the needed sanitization supplies to disinfect the vehicles per guidelines. We do currently have a short supply and are shopping literally on a daily basis to replenish and distribute to all counties."

Ward said the main objective is keeping everyone safe and virus free, but in public transit their is only so much that can be done, and the rest lies in the hands of those SMTS serves.

Some basic recommendations from SMTS include: Wash your hands, refrain from shaking hands or hugging others, wear latex gloves and dispose of them when necessary, wear a mask if you feel this is advisable for your own health conditions, disinfect all surfaces, use and share anti-bacterial lotion, refrain from touching your face, follow instructions handed down from your local health department and the CDC, and do not come come to work or ride SMTS transportation if you are sick.

"SMTS plans to resume normal operations immediately upon the recommendation of the Center for Disease Controls and our State and National Government," Ward said. "We apologize for an inconvenience and hope that each of you remain well, safe, and healthy as we work through this COVID-19 crisis."

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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