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Protect drivers before mandating masks on transit, says union

Last Updated Aug 5, 2020 at 2:33 pm PST

A TransLink bus driver wears a mask. (CityNews)

The union representing transit drivers is open to the idea of mandating masks, but has concerns

Drivers aren't there to police behaviours, the union says, and they need to be protected

TransLink has not made a decision on mandating masks yet

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Mandatory masks on Metro Vancouver transit is still up for discussion, but the union for drivers has some concerns if the change goes forward.

Gavin McGarrigle, western regional director for Unifor, says while the union is open to the idea, drivers are there to drive, not to police behaviour.

He says he’s worried how drivers will be protected from those who aren’t open to wearing masks, if required.

“Unfortunately, in some situations, you’ve seen the mask become politicized so having masks out there is not necessarily a bad thing, but our drivers are not there to enforce those policies.”

If people don’t want to wear a mask, McGarrigle says drivers could be the ones feeling the brunt of the backlash.

“We have seen some small number of pretty negative reactions from some people so we would be concerned about security requirements to make sure that our drivers are protected.”

In San Fransisco, a bus driver was apparently hit with a bat by a passenger who refused to wear a mask, according to local authorities.

RELATED: Petition asks TransLink to make masks mandatory, enforce distancing as COVID-19 cases climb

McGarrigle says there would need to be new policies put in place if a move to mandatory masks is made.

“Flipping a switch like that, going from no mask to mandated mask is going to take some education and enforcement, and it needs to be done safely for everyone.”

Additional security, provisions, and information would be necessary, he adds, to make the transition safe for drivers and passengers.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been clear public health officials will not make such a mandate, but has encouraged TransLink to require riders wear masks.

Meanwhile, more than 12,000 people have signed an onlineĀ petition asking TransLink to step up COVID-19 safety measures on transit.

TransLink has yet to make a decision.