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Delaware Transit Corporation wins federal grant for bus barrier study

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The Delaware Transit Corporation (DTC) was named by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as one of 37 project recipients awarded a competitive grant from the Public Transportation COVID-19 Research Demonstration Program. Over 100 proposals from 36 states and territories were submitted to FTA for consideration in the highly competitive research program.

The grant award of $450,000 is the third competitive FTA grant awarded to DTC in less than a year. The funds will be used to install barrier shields in a portion of DTC’s fixed route and paratransit bus fleets and evaluate the impact of varying barrier designs and characteristics on public health and operator protection in the indoor bus operating environment. The installation of barriers in buses is one measure DTC is implementing to protect employees and maintain public confidence in bus transit as a safe mode of travel during current and future public health emergencies, such as COVID-19, or any potential communicable disease such as the common flu.

“Public transportation is a critical service for thousands of Delawareans and this grant will help us and public transit agencies around the country evaluate how we can keep passengers and employees safe through the pandemic and beyond,” said Governor John Carney in a statement.

Many transit agencies have installed barriers, often a clear, plexiglass shield, near the bus driver as a means of protection from physical assault. Such barriers also served as useful safeguards during the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly providing the bus operator with a protective shield while transporting passengers. This grant will explore the efficacy of barriers on public health considering a variety of characteristics such as material, design and placement in DTC’s fleets. The study, to be conducted by Vital Strategies, a global public health organization, in consultation with Sam Schwartz Consulting, is the first-of-its-kind to evaluate the impact of barriers as a public health safeguard in buses.

“As we work to beat COVID-19 pandemic and get everyone vaccinated, we must make smart investments in our nation’s infrastructure to help slow the spread,” said U.S. Senator’s Tom Carper, Chris Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, Delaware’s Congressional Delegation in a statement. “Protecting the public and restoring confidence in our public transit system will help keep our travelers safe and keep our economy moving.”

“DART bus service has been a lifeline for both essential workers needing to get to work during the COVID-19 pandemic and customers who rely on our service to shop for groceries and seek medical services. We want to provide the safest service for our customers and employees, and this grant enables us to match science with practice to ensure safety in public transit,” said Nicole Majeski, Secretary of Transportation, Delaware Department of Transportation.

“We strive to protect the health and safety of our employees and customers every day, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Much like the increased, rigorous cleaning of our vehicles and facilities, the availability of hand sanitizer on vehicles and the reduction of key touch points in our system, these barriers send a message that health and safety are our priority,” said John Sisson, CEO, Delaware Transit Corporation, which operates DART First State.

“COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of reliable and safe public transit for essential workers. Nearly half of the country’s transit riders rely on buses for their transportation needs.  Vital Strategies is thrilled to partner with Delaware Transit Corporation and Sam Schwartz on this innovative pilot project to maximize people’s safety on, and confidence in, public transit,” said Daniel Kass, Senior Vice President, Environmental Health, Vital Strategies.

“We’re pleased to support Delaware Transit Corporation’s work mitigating disease transmission on transit with cutting-edge materials and designs. Ensuring the safety of transit workers is paramount. Scientifically-vetted, rigorously-tested COVID control measures are also essential to rebuilding the confidence of the traveling public. We look forward to DTC establishing best practices which will aid transit agencies nationwide in their protective barrier deployments,” said Sam Schwartz, P.E., Founder and CEO, Sam Schwartz Consulting.

The pioneering study will begin later this year. Results are anticipated to guide other industries such as the school bus industry, theprivate bus industry [e.g. long-distance companies] and microtransit providers.

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