Transit advocates in Ottawa are concerned about the rising number of COVID-19 cases among OC Transpo staff and hope to work on convincing the public that the city's buses, LRT, and Para Transpo are still safe.
As of Friday afternoon, OC Transpo reported that 28 out of its 3,000 employees had tested positive for the illness, including six operators this month alone.
Yet, not all of the 28 employees have direct contact with the public.
"I'm very worried about it," said Kari Glynes Elliott, co-founder of the Ottawa Transit Riders group.
She said it is hard to speculate how staff are contracting the virus, but hopes OC Transpo is investigating.
"Is it happening because they're not wearing masks? Is it happening because they're congregating? Are the drivers themselves getting it at work? Are they getting it elsewhere?"
The Ottawa Transit Riders group discussed the increase in cases at its Annual General Meeting Saturday. The group plans to focus on convincing the public that transit is still safe to use.
There is a mandatory mask policy for all OC Transpo customers and staff, but it is not enforced by the city.
With a drop in ridership because of the pandemic costing the transit agency millions of dollars in lost revenue, Glynes Elliott worries a rise in cases isn't going to help OC Transpo win back any customers.
She thinks there needs to be a better mask campaign and research done on what other cities that haven't had any links between COVID-19 and public transit are doing, to be able to convince people to ride transit in Ottawa.
Para passengers worried
There is concern around Para Transpo services as well. Some of its riders, like Sally Thomas, are immunocompromised.
"It makes me a bit nervous because of the way the bus is designed, I do need help to get into the bus every time and ... I do need help to get out of the bus," she said.
"I find the drivers, they're not wearing their masks or they're not wearing them properly or they're taking them off with people still on the bus."
OC Transpo has been alerting the public when an employee who would have direct contact with the public tests positive for the virus. It also alerts the unions and other staff about any cases.
The transit agency has also implemented new updates to its COVID-19 policies, including making masks mandatory in all common areas at OC Transpo offices and providing extra hand sanitizer to employees, Troy Charter, the city's director of transit operations wrote in a statement to CBC Ottawa.
"As the situation evolves, we continue to make adjustments and implement additional measures to stay abreast of industry trends and in close consultation with [Ottawa Public Health]."