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Violence against Calgary Transit drivers needs to be addressed: ATU

Unreported incidents are a growing problem, said ATU 583 president, Mike Mahar.

One Calgary city councillor said Calgary Transit drivers are working “in a trauma conveyor belt” and asked city officials what could be done to fix it.

Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness brought it up during question period at Tuesday’s regular meeting of council, saying operators are going to work in dangerous conditions daily.

“Transit operators are working in a trauma conveyor belt, where we ask them to go to work every day where they are experiencing violence, threats, and second-hand smoke from drug use on the transit system,” she said.

“This is leading to short- and long-term disability of our transit operators, where we then just replace that person with another person to experience the same trauma that that transit operator had to go on long-term or short-term disability with.”

On Monday, the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) released a set of recommendations from its Transit Safety Taskforce. They’re asking for all levels of government to come together to support improved safety on public transit across Canada.

They’ve called for investment in safety and security on transit, but also more enforcement positions.

“Violence has absolutely no place on Canada’s public transit systems. We take the safety and security of transit riders and workers very seriously,” said CUTA President and CEO Marco D’Angelo.

“The work of our Transit Safety Taskforce is important in addressing these challenges and ensuring that our transit systems remain safe and accessible for everyone.”

They’re also looking for de-escalation training for staff, plus more education on the outreach and social intervention programs available in each city. CUTA would also like to see hazard assessments done to improve staff safety and are calling on the Government of Canada to increase penalties for assault on transit workers.

Eight Code Blues in April: ATU

Mike Mahar, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 583 representing hundreds of Calgary Transit workers, said Coun Wyness’s description was an accurate one.

“It’s an incredibly difficult situation right now and the impact on the employees – it’s a remarkably accurate descriptor of the environment,” he said.

Mahar said that thus far in April there have been eight Code Blue incidents. Those are when a transit employee needs to call in some sort of intervention to help diffuse a situation. Ten years ago, they would average 65 to 70 per year.  

A bigger issue, he said, was the number of unreported incidents.

“I know, without any doubt, that there’s a great number of them not getting reported now,” Mahar said.

“I think it’s a sign of the frustration of the ineffectiveness of getting things done.”

Mahar thinks some of the CUTA recommendations will help both short and long-term but believes a national centre for public transit safety would help. He said it brings folks from different disciplines together to shape longer-term fixes.

Doug Morgan, GM for Operational Services, said they are taking steps to ensure greater safety for Calgary Transit operators.

He said they provide programs to help transit operators in the event they are off and need rehabilitation. They’ve also installed driver shields to protect bus drivers. Those were $800 per shield, Morgan said.

“There’s more to do and there’s things happening on our system we’re concerned with so we are opening a dialogue with the local ATU union to have that discussion, and also constantly interact with other employees to see what other things we can do,” he said.