The union that represents TTC operators says the transit agency and the city need to do more to protect workers from violent assaults in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carlos Santos, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, made the demand this week after two passengers allegedly assaulted a female bus driver and damaged a bus following a verbal dispute on Sunday evening.
Assaults against transit workers are “absolutely unacceptable and outrageous,” Santos said in a news release this week.
“ATU Local 113 demands answers from the TTC. There needs to be more resources on the TTC system to ensure the safety of workers and riders,” Santos added.
“The TTC must enforce its mandatory masks policy for riders.”
The assault happened on the bus at about 7:15 p.m. in the area of Broadview Avenue at Torrens Avenue, south of O’Connor Drive.
Santos said the bus driver had asked a group of customers to wear masks.
According to Santos, two riders ripped a phone out of a bus and damaged the barrier separating the operator and customers. The operator called 911 three times on her cell phone. The TTC said paramedics took her to hospital where she was treated.
Toronto police said they arrested a man, 26, and a woman, 25. The man was charged with two counts of assault, mischief under $5,000 and two counts of failure to comply. The woman was charged with two counts of assault and theft under $5,000. Both appeared virtually in court on Thursday, according to police.
The union, which represents nearly 12,000 workers, said the TTC can protect workers better by implementing rear-door boarding on buses, blocking the two seats behind bus driver, stopping cash payments and cease the issuing of paper transfers to bus riders immediately.
The TTC implemented these measures in the first wave of the pandemic. But Santos said it discontinued them last July.
Santos also called for more employees, including fare enforcement inspectors and special constables.
“We need more employees so that front-line staff feel protected,” he said.
Santos estimates one or two TTC operators are assaulted every day. He attributes the violence to frustration with the pandemic and anger over restrictions.
“They’re snapping and taking it out on our front-line staff,” he said. “Everybody is on edge during this pandemic and I think everybody just wants it to end.”
‘We are beaten up on a daily basis’
One TTC driver, whom CBC Toronto granted anonymity because he fears he could lose his job for speaking out against the transit agency, said drivers are attacked daily and they don’t get enough support from the TTC.
“We are beaten up on a daily basis and it’s exhausting. Instead of being supported and picked up, you’re actually knocked down on a daily basis by your employer,” he said.
Not only that, but he said customers have spat on him almost daily.
“Unfortunately, the city and the commission has made it so people are aware that there is nothing we can say,” the driver said.
He said the company trains employees to be “educators” and teach passengers the rules, but that is not always easy.
“How do you educate? ‘Kindly wear a mask,’ and then they’ll flip you off and the derogatory, defamatory comments start … from sexuality to racism to whatever.”
The bus driver said most employees he speaks to agree their jobs have drastically changed during the pandemic. He said there are now limited interactions — unless it’s a confrontation.
“We’re not really there, we’re not engaged, and that makes it hard for a personality like mine to go to work every day,” he said.
According to the TTC, it is mandatory for riders to wear masks but the policy is not enforced and riders are currently admitted without one. Santos said he wants it to be a legal requirement.
The union said assaults against operators are on the rise. A total of 93 assaults on operators happened during the third quarter of 2020 (July to September), an increase of 12 per cent, or 10 assaults, compared to the third quarter of 2019, the union said.
A total of 86 assaults on operators happened during the first quarter of 2021 (Jan. 1 to April 4), an increase of 23 per cent, or 15 assaults, compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, the union said.
The TTC, however, says its data shows that the number of assaults has been steady since 2018. In terms of assaults that required operators to take time off work, the TTC says there were 330 in 2018, 337 in 2019 and 333 in 2020. From Jan. 1, 2021 to April 3, 2021, there have been 85 assaults. The TTC says it tracks assaults in terms of time lost.
TTC calls assault ‘absolutely deplorable’
Stuart Green, spokesperson for the TTC, said in an email that the assault against the operator is “absolutely deplorable” and the TTC has downloaded video to help police in their investigation.
Green said the TTC will assist police as the investigation continues and in case there are additional charges.
“Our employees are on the front lines keeping this city moving and they should be treated with respect. We wish the operator a full and speedy recovery. We will support that recovery through our employee assistance programs,” Green said.
Green said the transit agency doesn’t expect its operators to enforce its mandatory mask policy because it would not be safe to do so.
“We don’t ask operators to enforce fares or masks for the same reason — safety,” Green said.
He said the TTC is unlikely to return to rear boarding on its vehicles because all-door boarding provides riders with space to get on buses or streetcars and provides better ventilation during the pandemic.
Green said 95 per cent of all bus trips have fewer than 25 people on board, which means they are full, according to physical distancing protocols.
“If operators feel a bus is too busy, they can call transit control for guidance,” he said.
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