Pace driver and his Route 604 passengers are safely riding out the pandemic

  • Mike Jozwiak operates Pace Bus 604 between the Northwest Transit Center in Schaumburg and Buffalo Grove. The 48-year Pace driver says he's been thankful to be able to continue working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Mike Jozwiak operates Pace Bus 604 between the Northwest Transit Center in Schaumburg and Buffalo Grove. The 48-year Pace driver says he's been thankful to be able to continue working during the COVID-19 pandemic. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • A 48-year Pace veteran, Mike Jozwiak operates Bus 604 between the Northwest Transit Center in Schaumburg and Buffalo Grove.

      A 48-year Pace veteran, Mike Jozwiak operates Bus 604 between the Northwest Transit Center in Schaumburg and Buffalo Grove. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/8/2020 1:51 PM

When the occasional maskless passenger ignores rules about face coverings on Pace Bus 604, driver operator Mike Jozwiak doesn't have to tackle the problem alone. He's got back up.

Sure, there's a dispatcher to offer advice, but Jozwiak also has a coterie of familiar faces, riders who've endured the tribulations of COVID-19 with him, willing to speak up and mask-shame any scofflaw.

 

"That's the advantage to driving the same bus route any length of time," Jozwiak said. "You get to know the passengers and the passengers get to know you. Your passengers will basically stick up for you."

Jozwiak, a 48-year Pace veteran, and Bus 604's route between the Northwest Transit Center near Woodfield Mall and Buffalo Grove remain the same amid countless changes since Sept. 7, 2019.

Pace ridership plummeted by 70% this spring during Illinois' stay-at-home order and is still at 50%. Destinations such as Buffalo Grove High School are closed temporarily.

"A year ago, we'd have people going into Woodfield and coming out of Woodfield. We'd be hitting all the little strip malls and shopping centers along the route. Now with the pandemic, everyone's working from home or out of a job," Wozniak said.

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During the spring, it was just him and two or three passengers a trip.

As of the fall, ridership is slowly creeping up. Commuters boarding 604 will see Jozwiak masked and gloved, separated by a clear plastic shield. There's a gallon-size jug of hand sanitizer available and some seats are blocked off to promote social distancing.

Most passengers know the drill now. "They either have the mask on before they get on the bus," Jozwiak said, "then look around to see which seats give them social distancing."

Jozwiak, 70, is married with eight children -- the youngest is 19 and heading to college. As an essential worker, he continued driving through Illinois' stay-at-home order but never worried about being infected.

Instead he's thankful "while thousands of people have been losing their jobs every day, I continued to work and draw a pay check."

But before he steers 604 out of the garage, "I wipe down every possible thing I will be touching."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After six months of abnormal, "I'd like to see a vaccine, simply for the reason it could pull us out of what we're going through ... all the businesses and people who've lost their livelihoods," Jozwiak said. "Pace has taken an unbelievable hit."

One more thing

Jozwiak previously received Pace's Two Million Miler award for driving accident-free, and he's on track to hit a Three Million Miler honor in six months.

He gives everyone a friendly salutation. "How you interact with someone who gets on the bus in the first 15 to 30 seconds will determine if they have a really lousy day or a really good day," he said.

That doesn't mean he's naive. One freezing week last winter, a man boarded the 604 and told Jozwiak he had "'no money.' I told him, 'you picked a bad day to play me,'" Jozwiak recalled.

The rider then "went into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash big enough to choke a horse."

You should know

What's happening with O'Hare International Airport's people-mover train that takes passengers between terminals and parking lots? "The ATS modernization project is in the testing and systems integration phase and will return to service as soon as the system is operating safely and reliably," a Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman said.

"Work is progressing, but the COVID-19 pandemic has had an unforeseen impact, with key personnel from the responsible project contractor subject to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada and between states, as well as various closures to manufacturing facilities that supply necessary parts for the system. While we're eager to return the ATS to service, current passenger demand is low and the airport's supplemental shuttle busing system has been able to get passengers between terminals and to-and-from the Multimodal Facility effectively."

Gridlock alert

Expect delays as IDOT crews resurface a stretch of Route 60 between Belvidere Road in Volo and Route 83 in Mundelein starting Sept. 14. Lane closures are planned during the project that wraps up next summer.

Deal for a day

Taking the train downtown one day this week? Metra is offering a $10 all-day-pass that provides unlimited rides on every train line though 3 a.m. the morning after your purchase. The pass is available through October on the Ventra app.

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