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Transit operator safety, mental health discussed at conference in Calgary

Transit safety continues to be a concern for many Calgarians and it is at the top of the agenda at a conference happening in the city this week.

Renne Dunn has seen a lot working as a Calgary Transit driver for 21 years.

“COVID really accentuated the cracks in our system and where we’re weak,” she said.

“You go on the CTrains and it seems like the second car is a safe consumption site and that can’t be happening, or people pass out in the back of a bus.”

Dunn said the job is even more challenging because the employer tells drivers not to intervene and to just call for help, even if they are the ones in trouble.

She left her driving job in January hoping to make a bigger impact with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 583.

“Drivers shouldn’t have to feel unsafe all the time in their job, or wonder if they’re going to make it home at the end of the day,” Dunn said.

“Or even going to work, if you’re on a platform or you’re walking to your bus, because you’re wearing a uniform, you shouldn’t feel like you’re a target, and that’s what’s happening.”

Transit driver safety and mental health are some of the topics being discussed at this year’s ATU Canada Conference at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary.

ATU Local 583 president Mike Mahar said on average, there are 60 incidents a year involving Calgary Transit drivers that require EMS or police assistance.

“It causes a problem obviously with their abilities to perform their job to the normal level that they would, but even leaving. It costs a lot of money to train a transit operator, and if they lose them because of that environment, it’s a significant impact,” he said.

Mahar said the union is getting more involved in court cases regarding transit operator assaults.

“We’ve provided community impact statements to the courts … and looking for heavier sentences, which the Criminal Code is actually created to do. It’s designed to have a heavier sentence for somebody that assaults the transit operator while in the commission of their work,” he said.

The union is also pushing for more funding from all levels of government, saying that when the system is under-funded and there are issues, people often take it out on the transit operator.

The conference comes just over a week after a 28-year-old man was stabbed to death at the Marlborough CTrain Station.

Calgary’s mayor and city councillors said they are always looking at ways to improve transit and public safety.

“This requires cooperation between transit officers, peace officers, the police service as well as the many outreach teams that help people in positions of crisis. So, sometimes it’s a matter of enforcement and sometimes it’s a matter of crisis response,” Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

“Some of the issues that are present through transit are shared responsibilities that we need to assume alongside the province,” Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner added.

Dunn said it’s going to take more than money to make this problem go away.

“I know we can do better. We have to put that human element back into it,” she said.

The conference runs until Thursday. Top Stories

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