Caltrain and SamTrans will soon require employees at its transit facilities to have proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing, with plans for a soft launch of mandatory testing protocol starting Sept. 7, SamTrans Chair Charles Stone said.
“It’s our obligation to provide folks with as safe as possible environment on the train for both our folks that run the train system as well as the folks who ride the train. That has to be kept top of mind right now,” Stone, also a Caltrain board member and the Belmont mayor, said.
Sept. 21 was identified as a hard deadline for testing protocol, Stone said. The first two weeks would help get the message out to those who might not be vaccinated and others that testing will be available on site. Potential protocol would require vaccination proof or twice weekly testing. A decision about whether to have mandatory vaccination requirements has yet to be made, Stone said.
“The message that we need to be getting out to everyone is that if for some reason you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, you need to do it now,” Stone said.
Caltrain Board Member Dave Pine, also a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, said while no decision has been made on mandatory vaccinations, he would like to move toward a proof of vaccination system. Pine noted it was hard to give a specific date for when it could happen but, given the delta variant, he supported a vaccination requirement in the fall.
“I think we are going in the right direction with the new policies, but personally, I would like to see some required vaccinations,” Pine said.
At its Sept. 2 meeting, Caltrain discussed potential testing and vaccination worker policies and what it might look like for employees and contractors. Caltrain worker operations are carried out entirely by SamTrans and a contractor, Transit America Services, Inc, or TASI. Caltrain is run by three Joint Powers Board members, SamTrans, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, or VTA, and the city and county of San Francisco. Caltrain currently has an agreement with TASI of a mask mandate to protect riders and employees.
A Caltrain report said that employers might require employees to be vaccinated, as long the employer allows accommodations for qualifying disabilities and religious beliefs.
Throughout 2021, both transit agencies have offered incentive programs to increase vaccination rates among workers. Opportunities included paid time off for employees who submitted proof of vaccination and sponsoring events for vaccinations for employees and families. The vaccination rate for San Mateo County residents 16 and older was 92.7%, with total individuals in the county vaccinated around 618,000 as of Sept. 2.
Caltrain is also working with TASI on a policy similar to its SamTrans policy to cover contract workers at Caltrain and SamTrans facilities. TASI will require employees to show proof of vaccination or negative testing. Around 63% of TASI’s workforce is vaccinated, according to a Caltrain report. Caltrain is also working with its other contractors on potential COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies.
Stone said the protocol could help reassure riders and the public moving forward.
“The more that we can create a sense of certainty that there is safety on the train, the more likely it is people will start riding the train again,” Stone said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found vaccines are more likely to keep someone from getting seriously ill and can protect people around them, particularly people at increased risk. Stone said while many people don’t like being told what to do, transit, city and any county employee should get the vaccine unless they had a documented medical reason not to.
“Hopefully, folks will do this of their own accord before any real mandates come down because it is time to do it as a responsible community member,” Stone said.
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