Thousands depend on the critical service, which now carries extra stress and responsibility for drivers.
Mexican Bus Drivers Face Health Risks, Lower Pay During Pandemic
Being a bus driver has always been a dangerous and challenging job. Road rage, stress and unruly passengers are among the struggles they overcome each day. However, what was just difficult and dangerous has become one far riskier due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
No matter the country, bus drivers are essential workers who help thousands reach their destinations on time. Some bus drivers dedicate nearly 15 hours a day to driving their buses around the cities.
“I work from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” said Mariano Lagunes Ordaz, a bus driver of the ‘Miguel Alemán’ route in the city of Veracruz, Mexico. “I leave the bus at the station, disinfected and clean for the next day.”
Their day begins with checking the physical conditions of the unit each morning before the route begins. They ensure nothing is out of order, refuel the bus and clean it. During the pandemic, hygienic standards have been higher than ever, since both the floor and seats must be clean. Passengers need to wear a face mask at all times.
“Yes, it is a very tiring job. I just stop to have a quick bite for breakfast and at lunchtime,” said Lagunes Ordaz.
The drivers’ stress level is quite intense during peak hours, when the main streets and avenues are filled with cars.
Buses during the COVID-19 pandemic
The pandemic represents a new challenge for bus drivers.
“The pandemic has been a massive struggle. During the first months, work was slow as people did not leave their houses,” said Lagunes Ordaz. “Work has spiked up, yet it has not returned to normal. People had to go to work. I try to keep my unit clean and ask all users to wear their masks. Otherwise, I will not let them enter the bus.”
Due to the vast influx of people, the virus has impacted the urban public transport systems. It is a relatively strong contagion venue because some drivers do not wear a face mask or do not enforce their use. Therefore, users prefer to utilize other transport methods that do not pose a risk to their health, such as cycling.
“COVID-19 has affected us a lot, it lowered the sales of tickets and therefore, our salaries. It has almost returned to normal, but we still have ways to go,” said José Alberto Díaz Utrera, driver of the ‘Diaz Mirón’ route in Veracruz.
Millions of Mexicans go to work daily, despite the presence of COVID. The government is redoubling measures by giving the citizenry the cleanest and safest public transport possible.
The health policies include using hand sanitizer and wearing masks to make riders feel safe.
“I do not allow a passenger to come into my bus if they do not wear a face mask. The management has asked us to do so, and I enforce this rule,” said Díaz Utrera.
However, the pandemic has helped identify the precarious conditions in which public transport units operate. Some buses are outdated or in poor condition, and some routes provide poor service.
The whole situation has created serious problems for bus drivers. It is dangerous, both for them and for riders. Moreover, bus drivers do not have a union that can help them negotiate difficulties.
“I have been working as a bus driver for 10 years,” said Díaz Utrera. “I do not have Social Security and can only count on the salary that my employer gives me. I am diabetic, but I try to take my medicines so as not to feel bad.”
Some Mexican Republic states are considered red zones of infection, which marks the highest level of risk of COVID. For this reason, drivers are, once again, facing a decrease in passengers and, therefore, in income.
Despite the situation, drivers have not stopped working and continue to provide an invaluable service to those who depend on them.
(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Fern Siegel)