Starting Monday, all Tulsa Transit passengers must obtain an exemption from the agency if they’re going to ride a bus without a mask.
The process involves submitting a form signed by a licensed physician, and approved riders will have to show a letter from Tulsa Transit to drivers each time they board a bus. There is a federal mask requirement in place for public transportation, but General Manager Ted Rieck said Tulsa Transit is trying to make it easier on the drivers who must deal with passengers who don’t want to mask up. The agency is already having trouble retaining drivers.
"There’s a lot of competition for drivers. I mean, whether it’s Uber Eats or Uber or Amazon delivery, school – the driving profession has really exploded since COVID because everyone’s taking deliveries," Rieck said.
The federal mask mandate covering public transportation allows exemptions for children under 2 years old, people with disabilities who cannot safely wear a mask and people for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace safety.
Tulsa Transit cut service 14% last November because of a driver shortage, and it remains at that reduced level. The agency's new transportation director thinks they’ll be fully staffed again by the end of next month, though.
"I’m optimistic that we gave the drivers an 11% raise and we’re trying to do other things to make the job better, between the mandatory masks and tightening that up, we’re keeping people in training longer to give them more confidence behind the wheel. So, we’re hoping all these issues – plus, we’re trying to do morale-building things," Reick said.
Tulsa Transit riders who wish to apply for an exemption can request a form from the Denver Avenue Station attendant, print it from tulsatransit.org or call 918-582-2100 to have one mailed to them. The forms can be returned to the attendant, emailed to email@example.com, or mailed to 510 S Rockford Ave., Tulsa, OK 74120.
Rieck said Oklahoma City’s transit authority, Embark, has a similar mask exemption policy and has granted two thus far.