Feature: Italian bus driver pines for return of pre-pandemic days

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ROME, March 25 (Xinhua) — The maximum length of a shift for a public bus driver in Rome is not quite seven hours. But according to Danilo Galli, the coronavirus pandemic can make it feel much longer.

Galli, a 40-year-old Rome native, drove a truck for a construction company before starting work nearly 12 years ago for ATAC, the Italian capital’s public transport company. He has seen a lot since he started driving a bus: fights, drunken party-goers, mechanical breakdowns.

But the year-long pandemic is a new territory even for him. While Galli said it was easier to drive through the city without the dense traffic of the pre-pandemic days, that is no compensation for the other changes.

“I used to enjoy human contact, seeing different people get on and off the bus,” Galli told Xinhua. “But now the front door is sealed, and the front of the bus is off-limits to passengers. There’s a big disconnect between the driver and the passengers.”

He also noted that capacity is limited to 30 percent of what used to be considered full, and he is required to wear a mask all the time during his six-hour-and-40-minute shift. For him and the passengers, he said, this caused anxiety and nervousness during the uncertain early days of the pandemic, but now that’s been replaced by an overarching sadness.

“People are just trying to get to work or run essential errands,” Galli said. “Like everyone, I’ll be elated when the pandemic is behind us.”

One factor adding to the uneasiness of the situation is the country’s vaccine rollout, which has been marred by supply shortfalls and distribution issues. Though the city’s more than 6,000 drivers are considered frontline workers, neither Galli nor any of the colleagues he knows personally had been vaccinated as of Wednesday.

“All the drivers have hundreds of passengers on their buses every day,” he said. “I’m sure the health rules in force offer us some protection, but we’ll breathe easier once we’re able to be vaccinated.”

From a personal perspective, the pandemic has also had a big impact. His wife was three months pregnant with their second child when the first coronavirus lockdown began a year ago. Their daughter was born without complications in September, but Galli said he missed being able to do simple things he had enjoyed when his son, now aged seven, was a newborn.

“I can’t wait to be able to put my daughter in her stroller and take her to a park or a playground,” he said.

He said his biggest concern was for Rome itself. Galli said he could not claim to miss the traffic jams and the agitated drivers, but he said the city feels unnatural with so few cars in the streets, so few passengers on the buses, and most restaurants and storefronts shuttered.

“Rome doesn’t seem like Rome right now, and it’s the same story for the previous year,” he said. “I miss the old Rome, even with all its frustrations.” Enditem

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