Building Barriers Against a Pandemic

As the Fixed Route Lead in STA’s Body Shop, one of Ron Scouton’s jobs is to figure out how to get things done in the best way possible. Luckily for STA, solving problems is Scouton’s forte.

“We get all kinds of projects in the body shop,” he said. “Sometimes they require welding, sometimes fabricating, but whatever is needed, we’ll come up with a plan and get right on it.”

That’s exactly what happened a few months back when Scouton was approached to develop a prototype for a protective barrier that could be installed on buses to protect coach operators and passengers from exposure to coronavirus.

Commercial versions were available, and STA had tested one a few years back. But at $5,000 each, the cost to outfit STA’s entire fleet of 147 buses was prohibitive. 

“Management needed custom plexiglass barriers designed and installed on the buses as quickly as possible,” Scouton said. “Even during a pandemic, coach operators need to get people to their essential destinations. Our goal was to make their job as safe as possible.”

Scouton started by assembling his design team, which included Jeff Smith and Wade Raymond, both journeyman 1st class. Together, they developed a template for a barrier that would close in the coach operator as much as possible, while still clearing the fare box and mirror.

“It was quite a process, especially because not all buses are the same,” Scouton said. “We had to make various adjustments to the original template so that a barrier could be fitted to each bus model in the STA fleet.”

Next, a latching system for the barrier doors was needed and the design team determined that a standard screen door latch would fit the bill. They were ready to start procuring building materials which, as it turned out, is where things got even more tricky.

“Everyone in the whole world wanted plexiglass,” Scouton said. “It’s everywhere – banks, grocery stores, everyone is using it! Our purchasing department somehow got us enough to outfit all the buses.”

Each barrier requires a 44” x 60” sheet of plexiglass, which is placed over a plywood template. A router is then used to cut out the barrier shape.

“The nice thing about building these in-house is that we can control the quality and function,” Scouton said. “They ended up costing $320 each, which is much more cost-effective than the other options we had.”

The assembly and installation process started in the middle of June and was finished by mid-July. Night crews assembled the shields and day crews installed them. They were able to build and install eight barriers every day.

“We were really hustling,” Scouton said. “That whole time period is a blur for me.”

Since then, coach operators have had a chance to test the barriers, and Scouton’s team has made some minor refinements based on their feedback. The latest was to add magnets to help enforce the barriers’ latches.

“Many people worked really hard to make this project a success,” Scouton said. “We’re very fortunate to have such a talented crew that is willing to go above and beyond to help out however they’re needed.”

Now, as passengers board a bus, coach operators pull the barrier doors toward themselves, creating a protective shield. Once everyone is seated, they push it back into the closed position by securing it to a stanchion across the bus aisle. This forms a cubicle around the driver’s area for use while the bus is in operation.

“Many people definitely see the value of having this added level of protection on the buses,” Scouton said. “We hope the barriers help both coach operators and passengers feel more secure. I take pride in knowing that what we do is a valuable service and something the community needs and appreciates.”

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