Union president calls Halifax Transit’s social distancing signs ‘smoke and mirrors’

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 president Ken Wilson says drivers are anxious about their safety on buses. Jesse Thomas / Global News

Halifax Transit’s decision to place signs on bus and ferry seats to encourage passengers to distance themselves is being criticized by the drivers’ union as “smoke and mirrors.”

“No, it will not make a difference,” said Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 508 president, Ken Wilson.

“This is another example of Halifax Transit being reactionary instead of being proactive. We asked them to do this before the third wave hit.”

Read more: Two Halifax transit drivers test positive for COVID-19, union calls for vaccine priority

In a news release sent Monday evening, the municipality said it was continuing to monitor and respond to the “rapidly evolving effects of COVID-19.” As part of its response, it plans to install signs on alternating seats on buses and ferries to “encourage passengers to appropriately distance themselves while traveling.”

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A spokesperson told Global News the signs should be installed by the end of the week.

The municipality notes other measures, such as increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces and installing polycarbonate shields next to the bus drivers, are already in place.

But Wilson says none of these measures deal with the fact that passengers are getting on buses using the front door, that they’re interacting with drivers while paying at the fare box, and that passengers are able to stand in the aisles.

He adds there is also no reduced capacity, which means drivers aren’t allowed to turn passengers away.

The municipality stated in its news release that recent data shows ridership on bus trips is low, and that the busiest trips reach 43 per cent capacity.

“Staff will continue to monitor ridership and capacity for any changes that may be required,” the release reads.

Wilson says his membership is worried, and wants to see more protection from Halifax Transit.

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He says there are currently two positive cases among drivers, and one probable case. About 40 people are isolating, either because they have symptoms or were potentially exposed.

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Wilson has been pushing for drivers to be prioritized for vaccination, but the province has been sticking to its age-based roll-out.

He says he has also been calling for rapid testing at Halifax Transit garages for drivers before and after their shifts.

During a news briefing on Monday afternoon, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang thanked bus drivers for providing an essential service.

He said health officials have offered public health advice to the municipality and given approval to decrease the load on buses, but that the decisions are to be made by the municipality and the union.

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