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Free bus, ferry service on New Year’s Eve a ‘recipe for disaster’: Halifax transit union

Click to play video: 'Free transit on New Year’s Eve a ‘recipe for disaster,’ union says' Free transit on New Year’s Eve a ‘recipe for disaster,’ union says
The union representing transit workers in the Halifax Regional Municipality says the city is putting bus drivers at an increased risk by providing free and extending transit service on New Year’s Eve. Graeme Benjamin reports. – Dec 30, 2020

The union representing transit workers in the Halifax Regional Municipality says the decision by the city to provide free and extended bus and ferry service on New Year’s Eve goes contrary to the advice Public Health has been providing.

In a social media post Wednesday, Halifax Transit said free and extended bus and Alderney Ferry service will be provided on New Year’s Eve from 6 p.m. onwards, in support of the Halifax chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Halifax chapter.

Read more: Halifax to host local performers in virtual New Year’s Eve celebration

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It’s a service that’s been provided in year’s past, but the transit union says with the pandemic, that decision should have been re-evaluated.

“It makes no sense,” said Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508.

“We’re left scratching our head one more time during this pandemic.”

Read more: Halifax Transit union calls for better mask enforcement as more drivers refuse work

Wilson says drivers are already feeling unsafe due to a lack of enforcement around mask wearing on transit. He feels adding free rides and intoxicated passengers to the equation will only make things worse.

“We could run a regular service. The core routes run past midnight anyways, we would still get people who needed to go to work, and the odd people going out some type of bus service,” said Wilson.

“But to give extended service and free service, and invite intoxicated passengers on a warm bus without enforcement of masks, is a recipe for disaster.”

As part of the extended Halifax Transit service, some of the main routes will be on the streets as late as 3 a.m., rather than the standard completion time of 1 a.m.

And earlier in December, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 called on Halifax Transit to ramp up enforcement on mask wearing, as there are still no repercussions for those who refuse to comply.

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“You can still get on a bus right now and we can’t enforce masks, which is unfortunate,” said Wilson. “A lot of transit workers are concerned with the new variant of COVID-19 being more infectious.”

Click to play video: 'Halifax Transit drivers refusing work after passengers forego masks' Halifax Transit drivers refusing work after passengers forego masks
Halifax Transit drivers refusing work after passengers forego masks – Dec 1, 2020

The city declined an interview for this story, but in a statement said the decision to offer free fares on New Year’s Eve is “not meant to encourage residents to use transit, nor to encourage gatherings.”

“The intent of this offering — both this year and in previous years — is to provide a safe transportation option for those who do decide to travel on New Year’s Eve,” said Erin DiCarlo, a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Municipality in a statement.

Halifax Transit users say it’s a hard call to make.

“I can see both sides of the coin, so it’s kind of hard to agree with either of them,” said transit user Benjamin Savage.

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“I don’t see the problem if they charge. They have been charging, so it doesn’t make a difference to me,” said transit user Vivek Botniss.

“For me, (free New Year’s Eve travel) is still fine, I don’t think many people are going to travel on the bus that day anyway,” said transit user Nityam Gandhi.

Read more: Masks now mandatory on Halifax Transit

But Wilson says Halifax Transit should practice what Public Health has been preaching.

“If you look at other transit agencies across Canada, they’ve cancelled their New Year’s Eve service. They’re running their regular service. I don’t know why we’re not following suit.”

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