The president of the union representing transit workers said the lack of safety measures and restrictions on Halifax Transit vehicles is "concerning" to many employees.
Currently, Halifax Transit buses and ferries are operating without any restrictions except a mandatory mask policy.
“It still stands as full-service, no restrictions and it’s concerning,” Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, told NEWS 95.7's The Rick Howe Show. “It’s concerning for my members and it’s concerning for our passengers and our clients.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nova Scotia last year, the transit union asked for safety measures such as reduced passenger capacity and rear-door boarding, which meant fares were waived.
“A year ago in March, we asked for exactly what we asked for this time,” he said. “No one knew how bad the pandemic was going to be. It was basically a Northwood illness in the first wave. But nonetheless, we put those restrictions in place; the employer agreed with every request that we asked for except for enforcement of masks from March through July.
“Now, we’re here with community spread. And it needs to be recognized that public transit is the definition of community spread because we go from one community to another in the same bus.”
For example, he said the bus route 61 Auburn—North Preston reaches four or five different communities from North Preston to areas in Halifax.
He also said bus route 3 Crosstown is another long route that travels from Lacewood in Halifax to several areas in Dartmouth.
On April 26, the municipality said transit users may experience bus delays or cancellations this week.
That's due to some Halifax Transit employees being off work due to being potentially exposed to COVID-19 or even contracting the virus, which two employees are currently experiencing.
“No one’s wiping down the back windows; no one’s wiping down the poles where the people sit. It happens one time at night — and that’s it.” he said. “I don’t know why Dr. Strang doesn’t understand this.”
Meanwhile still full service with ZERO social distancing measures @hfxtransit. @ATU_508 members told they don't need to self isolate if on exposed routes by their employer. After contacting Public Health ordered to self isolate. @hfxgov @dubehalifax1 https://t.co/8seBZuUm5O— Ken Wilson (@ATU508Pres) April 30, 2021
One concern Wilson said the employees have is about testing for COVID-19. He said they’ve been receiving “mixed messages.”
Wilson said that if an employee has been exposed, they’re being told to call Public Health like other Nova Scotians.
However, he said Public Health is saying transit operators are at a low risk of catching COVID-19 because of the precautions in place.
Those precautions include wearing a face mask and being partially separated by a Plexiglass barrier.
“We just want clear, concise guidelines from Public Health,” he said. “Because my members believe it, I’m starting to believe it, that whoever’s telling Dr. Strang and his team about transit, they’re not hearing the full story.
“It’s a concern. We’re in the fourteenth month of the pandemic.”
As an example, Wilson said the Cape Breton Regional Municipality put physical distancing measures on its buses this week.
“Any employer can exceed Public Health’s minimum standards,” he said. “Why are we aiming for the bottom and not the top? That’s the question that needs to be asked.”
As Nova Scotia experienced its second wave of COVID-19 at the end of last year, members of the transit union were also concerned about the lack of enforcement of Halifax Transit's mandatory mask policy.
“All we want the employer to do is listen to us; we’re asking for very simple measures to keep everyone safe,” Wilson said. “If you’re not going to vaccinate the transit system, the transit workers, you’re going to vaccinate the police over transit, that’s the first problem. And we’re seeing this now in the bigger cities, that transit workers aren’t being vaccinated and we’re still having more community spread.
“I don’t know what else to do.”