Public transit is an essential service. In the midst of a pandemic it is also a particularly dangerous one for transit workers and transit users. The City of Ottawa has tried to strike the right balance, but more needs to be done. Free Transit Ottawa calls on the Mayor and City Council to immediately take the following steps:
1. Formally suspend all fare collection
Many riders are experiencing a severe loss of income but still need to use transit to make essential trips. 16 cities in Canada have already implemented free transit, however, OC Transpo has only announced back door boarding on buses and that drivers won’t accept cash payments. Fare gates on the LRT remain in operation. Due to the closure of OC Transpo Service Centres, seniors are expected to make special trips to Loblaws or Shoppers Drug Mart to renew discount passes. Procedures for renewing the Equipass are unclear at best. This policy is iniquitous. Riders who lack the means to pay should not be made to feel guilty or have to deal with the threat of fines.
2. Ensure the level of service allows for the required physical distancing
While some service reductions are appropriate given the circumstances, the switch to Saturday Service is too crude a response. In particular it ignores the relatively large numbers of people using the bus to get to and from work. The number of buses in service during peak hours needs to be increased so as to meet riders needs while maintaining the necessary physical distancing.
3. Make masks and hand sanitizer available on all buses and trains.
Ottawa Public Health recognizes that public transit is an essential service “that must continue to allow the city to function.” The majority of riders are taking transit because they do not have another option. Masks and hand sanitizer are necessary in order to make these necessary trips as safe as possible.
4. Ensure that everyone providing OC Transpo and Para Transpo services has access to testing for the Covid-19 virus and is eligible for paid sick leave.
Transit operators are providing an essential service during this time. For their own safety, and to reduce the spread of Covid-19, workers providing essential services should have access to testing as soon as possible, and be eligible for paid leave if exposed to the virus.
5. Ensure that all operators have regular access to washrooms for bathroom breaks and handwashing prior to meals.
In order to follow the recommendations of public health authorities operators must be able to wash their hands often, especially before eating.
- Clint Crabtree, President and Business Agent, ATU Local 279
- CUPE 4600
- Ecology Ottawa
- The Energy Mix
- Free Transit Ottawa
- Fair Trade Carleton
- Healthy Transportation Coalition
- Migrante Ottawa
- Group of 78
- Ottawa Coalition for a Green New Deal