Halifax transit union calls free, extended service on New Year's Eve a 'recipe for disaster'

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The union that represents Halifax Transit employees says the city's decision to offer free, extended service on New Year's Eve is a "recipe for disaster."

"Our biggest concern is that it's an invitation to have drunk people get on the bus and where we can't enforce masks on Halifax Transit, the operators are going to be stuck in a situation where it could be unsafe or become dangerous," said Ken Wilson, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508.

Halifax Transit announced on Monday that it would offer free, extended service on New Year's Eve from 6 p.m. until 3 a.m. as a way to support MADD Halifax and discourage drinking and driving.

"That's a recipe for disaster because if it's free … essentially we're going to have bus operators babysitting drunk teenagers in a warm, enclosed space. And that's a concern in a pandemic," Wilson said.

A spokesperson for Halifax Transit said the decision to offer free fares is not meant to encourage residents to use transit or encourage gatherings.

"The intent of this offering — both this year and in previous years — is to provide a safe transportation option for those who do decide to travel on New Year's Eve," Erin DiCarlo said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Preventing impaired driving

Dr. Bijon Das, who works in the emergency room at the QEII, said he sympathizes with the transit drivers who are worried about working on New Year's Eve, but he appreciates the service they provide.

"I'm just hoping that everybody who does take up that option for getting home safely would pack a mask on their person and respect the transit workers and provide them with their own safe working environment," he said.

He has been working with MADD Canada to raise awareness about impaired driving.

Das said over his 15 years as an emergency room doctor, he has seen at least one serious motor vehicle collision caused by impaired driving each week.

Communications Nova Scotia
Communications Nova Scotia

Although Wilson understands the need to stop impaired driving, he saidthe extended service encourages people to gather in large groups for New Year's Eve during the pandemic — something the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, has warned against.

"The rest of the holiday season is critical for us and we need Nova Scotians to continue their vigilance with New Year's celebrations," Strang said in a news release Wednesday.

"Keep your gatherings small with no more than 10 people total. Stick with your family or your regular close social group of 10 as you say goodbye to 2020 and welcome in the new year."

CBC
CBC

Wilson said the drivers are worried about enforcing mask rules on their buses, and the new variant of COVID-19 that was identified in Canada last week. It has not yet been found in Nova Scotia.

"Our members are concerned. They're worried every time they come to work since the middle of March right through to today ... they're terrified that they're going to get sick and take it home to their family, to their parents," he said.

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