'Anxiety is through the roof': Union president says Halifax Transit drivers are in danger during pandemic
HALIFAX -- The president of the union representing Halifax Transit staff says the transportation service isn’t doing enough to mandate masks on buses, ferries, and in terminals.
"Public transit is a public space and it's an enclosed space,” said Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508. “So, essentially right now as it stands, you could have 30, 40, 50 people on a bus without mandatory enforcement of masks."
Wilson says bus and ferry operators are allowed to “advise, but not enforce” that masks be worn, under Halifax Transit rules.
“The biggest concern for the union at the moment is the lack of leadership from Halifax Transit,” said Wilson. “They have the authority and ability to enforce mandatory masks, and they failed to do so.”
Wilson says bus drivers have seen passengers come out of stores wearing masks, and take them off to get on a bus.
“What I’m hearing is, ‘You can’t force me, so I’m not wearing it’,” said Wilson. “My operators are concerned for their safety, the safety of their passengers, and their families if they bring home the disease.”
Wilson is calling for an enforceable mask policy and identification passes for people who are exempt from wearing a mask.
"We do understand that some people do have chronic health conditions and there's ways we can get around that with some type of identification pass or even a plastic shield would be better than nothing,” he said.
In an email, a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Municipality said, in part, “Primarily, Halifax Transit has taken an education and information approach to encourage the use of masks.”
They continued to say the “vast majority” of passengers are respectful of the mandatory mask order.
Early Wednesday afternoon, HRM said they are not planning to change the policy, citing “many other” Canadian transit agencies have similar policies, and the same concerns.
However, during an interview with CTV News Anchor Steve Murphy Wednesday evening, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage addressed the issue, saying enforcement of mandatory masks will be stepped up.
"If someone refuses and doesn't follow those rules, then the bus will pull over, we'll talk to a supervisor and the chief [of police] has also indicated he's talking to Metro Transit about what role we can take, if that needs to be escalated," said Savage.