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TTC union calls for mandatory face coverings for all transit riders

Last Updated May 8, 2020 at 4:56 pm EST

A TTC subway car. UNSPLASH/Justin Main

The union which represents TTC employees says it wants mandatory face coverings for all users of the system starting next week.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 boss Carlos Santos says with service cutbacks scheduled to take effect Sunday night and more businesses reopening, they are concerned about overcrowding on several TTC routes which could increase the spread of COVID-19.

“The math is straightforward – as more businesses re-open, more people will be taking public transit with less TTC vehicles on the road,” said Santos. “The City of Toronto must protect workers and the public by making face coverings mandatory on the TTC.”

“We must be ready for the increase in ridership as more people will depend on the TTC to get to work safe.”

The TTC has already put policies in place to help keep employees and riders safe such as restricting some seating areas on vehicles to maintain physical distancing, implementing rear-door boarding on buses and more frequent cleanings of the system.

Mayor John Tory said the issue of mandatory face coverings for passengers is something that has been under continuous discussion.

“We have been concerned about making sure that we have physical distancing for passengers on the TTC while the TTC itself has taken a number of steps to protect the safety and health of the operators,” he said. “In the event that ridership changes significantly, that continuous review of the subject of masks can be and will be considered.”

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, echoed the mayor’s remarks, saying adjustments will be made if needed.

“The current situation as we see it on the TTC is that physical distancing can be maintained under the current conditions. But of course this is something that always needs to be reviewed.”

The union says several North American municipalities, including New York City and Montreal, have or are considering a similar measure to make face coverings mandatory on public transit.

Quebec’s Transport Ministry says wearing a face covering is “highly recommended” while Montreal’s transit authority says it will be handing out up to 500,000 reusable masks to commuters. However, it has stopped short of making it mandatory, pointing out the extra resources that would be required to police such a measure.

As of April 15, New York governor Andrew Cuomo made it manditory to wear masks or face coverings in public whenever social distancing was not possible such as on a bus or subway.

The union also resumed its call for emergency financial support for the TTC and other public transit services from the provincial and federal governments. Without this funding, the union says 1,200 workers are set to be laid off and service is set to be cut by 15 per cent, which will impact those people who rely on the TTC.

“Instead of supporting TTC workers who have put themselves and their loved ones at risk, government inaction will lead to pink slips for many public transit workers and hurt some of our city’s most vulnerable people who depend on the TTC,” said Santos.

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