Mask enforcement a bust on Saskatoon buses, operators concerned for safety

If someone who isn’t wearing a mask boards a bus in Saskatoon, riders shouldn’t look to their driver for help.

Despite it being mandatory to wear a face mask on city transit, the lack of enforcement by operators is a matter of safety.

“Operator assaults are at an all-time high,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 president/business agent Darcy Pederson. “We don’t want to put our people at risk.”

According to a Saskatoon Transit statement shared by the City of Saskatoon, transit operators in the city do not enforce mask compliance for safety reasons.

“We work to educate riders on the importance of masks and communicate the requirement in a variety of ways to help with compliance. It’s important to recognize there are exceptions as some people may not be able to wear a mask,” the statement read.

According to the statement, transit operators are tracking when individuals are not wearing masks on city buses so those areas can be targeted with education and monitored more closely.

Pederson said bus operators felt like they’d been left to fend for themselves once mandatory masking was put back in place at the beginning of September. He said masks are available to passengers upon boarding, but there’s no further enforcement. Drivers have been told to refrain from mentioning masks to passengers.

“We’re not even to suggest they use them,” Pederson said.

According to Pederson, confrontations — particularly between passengers — started up again on buses when masks were made mandatory again.

“There have been altercations to the point of passengers have gotten into each others’ face in a screaming match about why they should wear masks and why they shouldn’t wear masks,” he said.

Sometimes, passengers in favour of mask use will look to their bus operator for support to encourage another rider to put on a mask. To this, operators will respond with their hands in the air.

If an altercation becomes too heated, Pederson said a driver will pull over the bus, open the doors and call the police.

The toxic and sometimes dangerous environment has drivers stressed and anxious while on the job, Pederson explained. He said they’d like to see a way for masks to be properly enforced on buses in the city.

“We don’t want to put our people at risk but we definitely need the support,” he said, suggesting some kind of security be added to local buses to ensure passengers are masked while riding.

Pederson is also looking forward to seeing protective barriers — also known as assault barriers — finally installed on all city buses.

Since the motion was passed by Saskatoon city council in December, one bus has been outfitted with a barrier to help protect operators while on the job.

In the meantime, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the province, Pederson asked the public to be patient with bus operators and other passengers.

“Respect each other and each other’s space,” he said. “This is a tough time for everybody.”

Mask enforcement a bust on Saskatoon buses, operators concerned for safety | 650 CKOM