Cherriots driver on the pandemic: ‘Anxiety that leads to preparedness then action and response’

Despite a major disruption to services early on and a host of new riding requirements, Cherriots buses have kept on rolling. 

After six years of driving for Cherriots, Vicki Morris recognized the gnawing feeling of anxiety that came with the news that COVID-19 had reached Salem-Keizer.

Coming into contact with loads of strangers everyday in the midst of a highly contagious, sometimes deadly virus, isn’t something Morris took lightly. She said it was the scariest, if not most concerning, crisis she’s faced as an operator.

“I personally felt like I do when we are expecting a big snow storm,” Morris said. “Anxiety that leads to preparedness then action and response.”

Cherriots’ action took the form of safety measures like increased cleaning, blocked off seating to encourage social distancing and requiring masks for all riders. Not everyone took kindly to the new regulations, but Morris said she has not experienced any hostility.

One of her favorite parts about her job was the interaction with people, which has changed drastically because of safety restrictions. Passengers now board through the rear door, unless they need the front door to be lowered. The seats directly behind the driver are blocked off, making it difficult to talk to passengers.

Morris said many of her regulars have not returned as ridership is down 50%. This includes state and county workers who are working from home, medically vulnerable riders and transit “groupies.”

A transit groupie, as defined by Morris, is a person who chooses to use public transportation so that they can socially interact with others.

Though she misses interacting with her passengers, the biggest challenge for Morris is the unknown.

“Worldwide, we really just don’t know where this is going or how long it is going to last. There’s no end in sight,” Morris said.

Another unknown variable that shakes up Morris’ life is the change in routes. In the five years prior to COVID-19 her route would change every four months, now it changes every time there is an increase or decrease in a certain part of town, which is about every two to three months.

“We’re not sure when the next change is going to be, before we always knew when it was going to change, [now] we’re not sure,” Morris said.

Through all of it Morris said the thing she’ll remember above all else is how everyone pulled together.

“The most memorable moment for me has been seeing our Cherriots family pull together for each other. From the support of our General Manager Allan Pollock down through our amazing facilities maintenance crew that has been cleaning like crazy,” Morris said.