Saskatoon transit union calls for support to enforce mask mandate on city buses

SASKATOON -- Saskatoon’s transit union would like to see help for drivers who encounter riders not willing to comply with the City of Saskatoon's mask mandate on city buses.

"Our operators feel like they have been left to fend for themselves," said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 president and business agent Darcy Pederson. "They’re stressed out, tensions are high, we’re getting worn out."

Transit drivers aren’t responsible for enforcing the mask mandate due to safety concerns, but they have a box of masks available at the front of the bus in case someone needs one. Drivers also have a button they can press that activates an internal message on the bus reminding passengers masks are required.

Still, Pederson said someone like a security guard should be enforcing and handing out masks on transit, allowing operators to focus on driving.

He said some drivers have witnessed passengers getting into altercations with each other over mask wearing, but the driver can’t do anything other than pull over, open the doors and call police.

"If you don’t have enforcement, you’re just creating an environment where the conflict is going to happen one way or another. Operators, they want to come to work, they want to do their job safely and they want to return home to their family safely," he said, adding confrontations can lead to assault or worse.

Pederson said he would also like to see the rest of the assault barriers approved by city council last November installed on city buses so that drivers have an extra layer of protection. He said only one bus has been retrofitted with the safety shield so far.

In a statement to CTV News, Saskatoon Transit said drivers are tracking when and where there is non-compliance so supervisors can closely monitor and provide education in those areas.

"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 said.

Saskatoon Transit said mask compliance is 95 to 99 per cent on any given day on city buses, but Pederson said he believes those numbers don’t truly reflect what is happening.

"I don’t know what portion of compliance they represent, but I can tell you that non-compliance is happening a lot more than five per cent," he said.

Robert Clipperton, steering committee member and spokesperson for Bus Riders of Saskatoon, said bus riders as a whole were happy to see the mask mandate come back into effect on transit after being lifted on July 11.

However, he said enforcement at the provincial level is needed to ensure those who aren’t compliant follow the rules.

"We’ve got a sector of our population that doesn’t believe that COVID is a danger, doesn’t believe anyone should have to wear a mask and they’re going to violate it over and over again unless there’s some kind of enforcement," Clipperton said.

He added that there should also be more clarification about what the expectations are as restrictions are lifted and introduced.

"It’s really confusing for everyone because the rules seem to keep changing, the mechanisms for spreading the information don’t seem to be the best and having different rules in Alberta as opposed to in Saskatchewan as opposed to in Manitoba … it’s tough to keep abreast of what’s going on."

In the meantime Pederson is reminding anyone who rides transit to be patient with drivers and be respectful of the rules in place.

"Respect the policy, wear your mask, respect each other’s space and we can all get through this." 

Saskatoon transit union calls for support to enforce mask mandate on city buses | CTV News