SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A San Diego bus driver says he was suspended for refusing to transport riders who wouldn't wear face coverings.
Michael Russell is a fixed-route bus driver for First Transit, a subcontractor for the Metropolitan Transit System or MTS. He drives one of the smaller, 26 passenger buses.
Russell contacted ABC 10News saying he was suspended for three days without pay for refusing to drive two maskless customers.
"They said they do not wear masks, and they ranted on for quite some time, all kinds of things they said," said Russell.
Russell said he pulled over and contacted a supervisor.
"They refused to put on the mask, so when I got to the next bus stop, I pulled over, and I refused to drive in an unsafe bus because I had other passengers on board, including myself who were all at risk," said Russell.
He says a supervisor ultimately took over the route, but Russell says the company suspended him for three days without pay.
"Citing something in the handbook, apparently I was not following orders, instructions from my supervisor basically, " said Russell.
Russell said drivers are not allowed to enforce the mask mandate.
"They were claiming I was enforcing the mask mandate, but that wasn't the case at all. I let them on the bus. I took them for the ride, and they eventually got to where they were going, but I couldn't in good conscious keep driving an unsafe bus with two people sitting behind me without masks during the Omicron crisis," said Russell.
Russell, who has worked for First Transit for four years, said he's been feeling under the weather the last two days. His suspension ended Saturday, but he said he's looking into the company's testing policy before he returns.
Ultimately, he hasn't decided whether he'll go back. He filed a grievance against the company with his union, Teamsters Local 542.
"They're throwing the bus driver under the bus in order to avoid any kind of litigation or public embarrassment or outcry," said Russell.
First Transit did not answer questions about why Russell was suspended but said he could return to work.
A First Transit spokesman, Jay Brock, issued the following statement:
"First Transit works in partnership with MTS to focus on educating riders about the face-covering requirement. The vast majority of transit riders comply. MTS security officers, road supervisors, ambassadors, and other personnel can provide a free face covering if a rider doesn't have one."
According to the MTS website:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has extended the requirement that people on public transportation wear face masks. MTS passengers, even those who are fully vaccinated, are still required to wear a face-covering when riding MTS, including on board vehicles, at bus stops, trolley stations, and transit centers. The mandate has been extended until March 18, 2022.
An MTS spokesman said bus operators should call for support, security, or a road supervisor, to handle when a rider won't comply.