Para Transpo riders in danger from unmasked passengers, says regular user

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Unmasked passengers are allowed on Para Transpo buses, endangering drivers and other riders, many of whom are immunocompromised and vulnerable to infection, says a former human rights commissioner in Ontario and a regular user of the service.

Elizabeth Sorfleet said she began her own investigation after sharing a ride with a masked passenger last summer. The passenger had a developmental disability, so Sorfleet said nothing. But afterwards she asked the driver about it.

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“When I asked the driver about people who came who refuse to wear a mask and have no medical certificate except them, it opened a floodgate,” she said.

Sorfleet began researching other drivers about their experiences and eventually spoke to 32 of them.

Of the 32, 30 confirmed: ‘Yes, it happens.’ And they said it was a daily event, which is shocking. ”

During her own ride with the masked passenger, “I felt uncomfortable, but my initial concern was heightened when I found out how common it was,” she said.

Most Para Transpo users have disabilities, and many are older at high risk for COVID-19, she said. Some are unvaccinated children who either have their own disability or who drive with their parents.

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“But it also puts drivers at risk. These are people who have families. Some of the drivers have their own disability. Some are even immunocompromised. ”

Masks have been mandatory on OC Transpo buses since June 2020. And while regular buses now have a plastic screen installed to protect the driver, this is not possible on smaller Para Transpo vehicles. Not only does it violate unmasked passengers’ mask and city mask rules, but it violates the Working Environment Act by endangering drivers, she says.

Sorfleet said some of the drivers said they had been told they could not refuse a passenger, nor could they complain to the media on their own.

“I was quite angry on behalf of the drivers. I trust them. I appreciate them. I am very grateful for the service the city provides. And I believe in them. ”

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Sorfleet wrote a letter of complaint to the mayor, OC Transpo and Ottawa Public Health. In a response last week, OC Transpo said it is in compliance with health and safety laws and followed the doctor’s instructions. But it was silent on whether masked passengers are allowed to drive the Para Transpo, she said.

In an email response to this newspaper, OC Transpo said that it has worked closely with OPH to develop its COVID-19 protocols and that all passengers and employees should be masked. But it will not ask for proof.

“If a customer claims to have a medical exemption and cannot wear a mask, they are allowed to board the bus without proving the dispensation to the operator,” said Jim Greer, director, transit operations. “Should customers or staff complain that someone was not wearing a mask, OC Transpo has a robust complaint process in place to deal with these issues.”

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The service is trying to schedule rides with only one passenger at a time, though that is not always possible, he said.

“There are cases where there is more than one passenger on Para Transpo minibuses, but OC Transpo makes every effort to keep these circumstances to an absolute minimum,” Greer said.

“All Para Transpo passengers are treated equally. If a customer has a safety complaint or another passenger, OC Transpo will offer the complainant a new journey and quickly send another vehicle to get the complainant to their destination. ”

Sorfleet said it is not true that a passenger with a mask should be the one to get off the bus and wait for another ride. If that happens to her, she plans to refuse to quit.

“(Ottawa) boasts that it was the first Canadian city to have a mandate to wear masks on public transportation. But they break their own laws. And they put us in danger, ”said Sorfleet.

“I think it’s a very serious situation and I can not understand why the city is breaking its own statutes.”

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