The union representing transit workers in Halifax says the mandatory mask rule for all public transit is fundamentally flawed, as there are no repercussions for those who refuse to comply.
Ken Wilson, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, says over the past week, three drivers have refused to work because they don’t feel safe, given the number of people entering buses without face coverings.
“They’re concerned,” said Wilson.
“The anxiety, the fear, the distraction is a concern.”
READ MORE: Masks now mandatory on Halifax Transit
Masks became mandatory on all transit ferries and buses back in July. However, there are no fines or other penalties for those who don’t comply.
Wilson says the time for education is over and there should be strict enforcement for those who don’t have a medical reason to not wear a mask.
“In our environment the operators have the right to enforce certain rules. For example, no shirt, no ride. No pants, no ride,” said Wilson.
“But no mask, take a seat, which doesn’t make sense to us.”
Wilson says while the majority of passengers follow the rules, which he estimates to be about 90 per cent, the other 10 per cent are putting the rest of them at risk.
“I think we’re all trying to navigate the new normal, but I can’t stress enough that we educate in the first wave of a pandemic and we enforce in the second wave to avoid a third wave,” he said.
Stacie Smith, a frequent transit user, says she’s noticing more and more people either not wearing a mask while on the bus, or wearing them improperly.
“I just hear about all the horror stories of people not wearing masks on buses, which to me doesn’t make sense,” said Smith.
“It’s safety. It’s just common sense right now.”
Halifax Transit declined an interview, but in a statement the Halifax Regional Municipality reiterated that the protocol is only for drivers to remind passengers to wear a mask but not deny them entry if they refuse to do so.
“There are no planned changes to the current protocol, however, with everything related to COVID-19, we continue to monitor and respond as the situation changes,” said Erin DiCarlo, a spokesperson for Halifax Transit, said in the statement.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, addressed the issue of mandatory masking during Tuesday’s COVID-19 press briefing.
“You may not like to wear a mask. That’s OK. But you still need to do it,” said Strang. “So stop looking for loopholes, stop making excuses, stop arguing with people who drive our buses … when they ask you to put on a mask.
“Masks are an important part of our COVID response plan, and they work.”