City officials have launched a crackdown on Calgary Transit users who refuse to wear COVID-19 protective face masks.
That news comes a day after a bus driver was spat on by a would-be maskless passenger, said the president of the transit operator’s union.
In the past week, peace officers have handed out 36 tickets to masking violators, most of them to people using the transit system — one of the steepest increases in enforcement since a bylaw mandating mask use in public indoor areas took effect last Aug. 1.
“The increase in Temporary COVID-19 Face Coverings Bylaw violation tickets is mostly due to lack of compliance at transit facilities (stations, etc.) and vehicles,” said Jennifer Chiesa, spokeswoman for Calgary Community Standards.
“The compliance rate on Calgary Transit vehicles currently sits at 99 per cent, so those who are not wearing a face covering tend to stand out.”
Since Aug. 1, at least 258 of the tickets have been issued, with 14 per cent of those handed out since Feb. 25.
Since Nov. 24, city enforcers have handed out 197 tickets for other COVID-19-related offences under the Public Health Act, but none in the past week — which is virtually unheard of. They had been targeting weekend demonstrations by anti-lockdown activists that have been a weekly occurrence since last November.
Calgary Transit bus driver John Othen, 73, died last January after contracting the virus, which his union believes occurred at work.
As of today, 102 Calgary Transit employees have tested positive for COVID-19, although department officials say only five of those cases are linked to the workplace.
But the head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583 believes that number is low.
Even so, Mike Mahar welcomed the crackdown on those not wearing masks, saying it comes as one of his bus driver members was spat on Thursday by a man who refused to wear a mask.
“He wouldn’t wear a mask and wouldn’t pay a fare and spat on an operator’s shield,” said Mahar.
“It’s a good thing that face shield was there because in a seven- or eight-hour workday, they’re not always behind that screen.”
Mahar said he discourages transit drivers from confronting or even trying to educate those who refuse to wear a face mask because those situations can quickly escalate.
“A year into the pandemic, that’s obviously a conscious decision by someone not to wear a mask. . . That enforcement is best left to (peace officers),” he said.
Most of the more glaring violations, he said, occur on CTrains and at stations, well after peak hours and often involve those who spend a large part of their day riding the rails.
After ridership sank by 90 per cent during the first wave of the pandemic, it has now recovered some ground but is only at about a quarter of its normal level, say city officials.
However, Mahar said he believes ridership is more like 50 per cent normal capacity, with crowds of passengers sometimes sparking considerable anxiety among drivers.
The union has been pushing for quicker vaccinations for its members due to their front-line status.
“Our members without question are more vulnerable with stale air circulating in vehicles and with 20 people standing in a bus, I wouldn’t feel comfortable,” said Mahar.
“It’s good to hear they’re stepping up enforcement, but there’s a long ways to go.”
on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn