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COVID-19: Toronto transit riders and drivers still crammed into crowded buses

At a time when COVID-19 hospitalizations are soaring and daily case counts are breaking records, many Toronto transit users and operators are still finding themselves on crowded city buses.

Paschalina Francois told Global News she has to begin her trek hours before her 7:30 a.m. shift starts just to get some space on the Kipling bus.

“I have to leave home at 4 a.m. so that I don’t [have to] be in a crowded bus,” the factory worker said.

Read more:
Coronavirus: 47 TTC buses added to busy morning routes to urge physical distancing

“I’m the only one on that bus (in the morning), I’m happy about that … but in the afternoon it’s crazy.”

She said she would like the TTC to add more buses to busy routes to keep it safe, but the trouble is the TTC has already done just that.

The agency has made efforts to facilitate social distancing a number of times since the pandemic began. But despite the TTC throwing everything it can at mitigating bus congestion, the issue remains.

Click to play video: Coronavirus: TTC to increase number of buses in COVID-19 hot spots to allow for greater physical distancing

Officials said the TTC has retrained more than 50 subway and streetcar drivers and is in the process of training 26 more. Buses from other regions of the city have also been sent to areas where there are higher congestion levels.

Spokesperson Stuart Green said the TTC has real-time passenger counts to see when there is a need for more buses.

“When we see those buses are full, we can, to the best of our ability redeploy service,” he said.

Green said there is more bus service scheduled now than during pre-pandemic levels and all available services are on the road. Each time an issue is raised with overcrowding, he said the TTC does its best to ask questions in order to make adjustments.

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Simply skipping a crowded bus stop isn’t always an option for bus drivers, Green noted, because it doesn’t solve the problem.

“Then of course it raises the issue of leaving people stranded at stops and then that stop gets busy … so the next time a bus comes along, there are more people waiting,” he said.

Beginning on Friday, transit apps like Rocketman and Transit will help transit users plan ahead by showing real-time passenger counts.

Click to play video: TransLink testing air sanitization system for buses

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said physical distancing and good ventilation are still the best ways to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. She noted with the improved weather, transit users should consider opening windows to increase airflow.

Some transit users and a bus driver told Global News the combination of the current stay-at-home order and school closures has taken off some of the strain. But they added rush-hour commutes remain a problem for social distancing.

Since not everyone can work from home, de Villa encouraged people to try to shift the hours they begin work to help lower congestion on buses.

Mayor John Tory said the congestion issue is being discussed daily, adding that he and TTC CEO Rick Leary have been meeting weekly to try to address it.

Meanwhile, the union representing TTC employees is asking the province to move up the vaccination schedule for drivers. ATU 113 president Carlos Santos said they have helped keep the city moving at great peril to their own health and need to be protected.

“Every day [TTC employees] go into work and [wonder], ‘is today the day I’m going to get COVID-19 and I’m gonna bring it back to my family?’” he said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Santos said more than 730 TTC employees have contracted COVID-19. Currently, he said drivers are scheduled to be vaccinated in June, but now with schools closed, he suggests TTC workers should move up in priority.

Read more:
Ontario students move to virtual learning indefinitely amid record-high COVID-19 cases

“Schools have been shut down, so I’m not understanding why school bus drivers are getting the vaccine prior to us, when we’re a 24-7 operation,” Santos said.

“We don’t have the luxury or the option of shutting down.”

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