Editorial | Port Authority employees should be vaccinated


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

A Port Authority bus on Fifth Avenue.

This month marks the two-year anniversary of COVID-19 pandemic’s prominent influence in the United States. Although much has changed over that time, we are seeing a recurring phenomenon — vaccine reluctancy from a relatively small group of people.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County is in the midst of its own controversy when it comes to vaccines. Within the past few days, a number of drivers have called off work to protest a vaccine mandate going into effect on Tuesday — one that will impact roughly 500 unvaccinated employees, and is already affecting daily bus service.

During the pandemic, seven Port Authority employees have died from complications due to COVID-19, adding to the more than 43,000 pandemic-related deaths in Pennsylvania. Because the Port Authority provides a public service across the county, bus drivers are in constant contact with their passengers, potentially exposing them to any number of illnesses with each passing person.

The way to ensure the health of not only Port Authority employees, but also the reliability of public transit, is to make sure the people who have a hand in operating the system are able to do so safely and effectively. Port Authority employees should be vaccinated for themselves and the common good of Pittsburghers, especially considering the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in protecting against the virus or serious symptoms.

This newest issue facing the Port Authority is impacted by another pandemic-caused one — staffing shortages and bus delays. As of January, sick employees and a shortage of drivers are causing 5% to 8% of daily trips to be skipped, which is much higher than its goal of 2% or less.

The unfortunate reality is that because so many workers are unvaccinated and will have to go through disciplinary hearings to determine consequences — for some, that will include job dismissal — the agency projects that 20% of its normal bus operations will be impacted.

In other words, for a fleet that services more than 7,000 stops around the county, roughly 1,400 stops could be affected.

Despite Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, which represents roughly 2,300 Port Authority employees, fighting the mandate, a judge did not block the vaccine requirement taking effect Tuesday.

Vaccine mandates help to ensure the safety of the general population, so having bus drivers who are interacting with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people in an enclosed area be vaccinated is the most logical thing to maintain the efficacy of one of Pittsburgh’s most necessary services.