A union representing thousands of Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers is calling for a change to the way the agency operates in severe winter weather after hundreds of buses got stuck in Monday’s snowstorm.
In a statement, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, which represents nearly 12,000 TTC workers, called on the transit agency to implement a plan that would see service paused in major snowstorms.
“While the TTC doesn’t control the weather, the snowstorm revealed major gaps in how the TTC deals with severe winter weather conditions,” Marvin Alfred, ATU Local 113 president, said in the statement.
“To protect workers and riders, ATU Local 113 calls on the TTC to be better prepared for snowstorms by implementing a service plan in which vehicle accumulation levels are assessed and a hazardous service level is determined.
“Once that level is reached, the TTC must pause service to allow road crews to plow roads so buses and streetcars can keep Torontonians moving safely. The TTC can and should do better.”
A major winter storm moved through parts of southern Ontario Monday, prompting blizzard warnings for the Toronto area.
The storm led to treacherous driving conditions throughout the region and caused cars and transit vehicles to get stuck for hours.
ATU Local 113 said 540 buses became stuck.
“The TTC’s communication system was ineffective. Calls from trapped operators were left unanswered,” ATU’s statement said, adding that “many workers and riders” were “left stranded” for eight to 10 hours.
“Many of the 540 buses left stranded in the snow had passengers who rely on transit to keep them safe and get them where they need to go.”
Crews continued to work to clear hundreds of buses that remained stuck in the snow Tuesday.
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green told Global News that as of around 3 p.m. Tuesday, 391 buses remained stuck.
He said staff were working as quickly as possible to free the vehicles.
Green said the union suggestion that service be paused in severe weather events is not feasible.
“As far as the union suggesting that we park service until the roads are clear, that’s just a nonstarter,” he said.
“There are people that are relying on us to get them where they need to go. Yes, there were delays yesterday. Yes, there are delays today. But you know it was fewer than half of our vehicles that got caught up in any of those log jams or got stuck at any time.
“So service was still getting through and our priority will always be on trying to get people moving through service as safely and quickly as possible.”
Green said there would have to be an “incredibly extreme” event to stop service entirely.
He said once service fully resumes, the TTC will look at possibly making some policy changes.
“Our priority is getting service back and then we’ll do a deeper dive on what we could’ve done differently, if in fact there was anything we could’ve done differently,” he said.
“It usually is the case in these things where protocols and practices that we have in place may need to be refined or updated. If extreme weather like we saw yesterday, which by the way was record-setting snowfall in a short period of time, if that’s going to become a new normal, we will have to modify our winter protocols. But as of yesterday that was a rare occurrence.”
He admitted that there were delays in reaching drivers who reported they were stuck and noted that the TTC was short some staff because of COVID and also individuals who simply couldn’t make it to work.
“It all sort of came together at the worst possible time,” Green said.
“So that is absolutely something we will learn from and do better at.”
Regarding passengers, Green said that in some cases when a bus got stuck, another one may have came along and picked them up. He said riders were also allowed to wait on a bus and stay warm until another one came along.
“So, you know, people were able to get around or they might’ve made other arrangements themselves, but to just simply stop service until the roads are clear is a nonstarter,” he said.
ATU Local 113 said when snowstorms happen in Toronto, it is a regular occurrence that buses get stuck on hills on York Mills Road, Avenue Road and other locations.
“These are known areas that are affected by poor weather conditions and create hazards for operators and riders,” the union statement said.
“The TTC often says that safety is a top priority. These words need to turn into actions to demonstrate that worker and public safety are paramount.”