Protestors demand return of Transit Windsor service

A handful of protestors held a sit-in at the downtown Transit Windsor bus station Friday afternoon, demanding that city officials reverse a decision to temporarily suspend service.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens suspended bus service for two weeks on March 29, amid fears of the spread of COVID-19.

Protest organizer J.C. Bitonti said the move has impacted seniors, individuals living with accessibility needs, as well as those who have no other mode of transportation to get to work.

"We are performing civil disobedience to show the mayor that this is not okay and that people deserve access to transit, because it is an essential service," said Bitonti.

The group has sent a list of demands to Dilkens, including ceasing the temporary suspension of Transit Windsor operations immediately; creating and enforcing bus capacities and social distancing measures to allow space between passengers; and making transit free until the State of Emergency Order is lifted in Ontario.

Here's the full list of demands sent to Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens

  • Cease the temporary suspension of Transit Windsor operations immediately.
  • Create and enforce bus capacities and social distancing measures to allow space between passengers.
  • Make transit free until the State of Emergency Order is lifted in Ontario. Fare-free transit will reduce interaction between drivers and passengers.
  • Require all passengers not requiring the use of ramps to board through the back.
  • Temporarily take down or discourage the passenger use of the 'request-stop' cords and buttons, and direct drivers to stop the bus at each stop on their routes, or devise any other alternative to 'request-stop' cords and buttons that prioritizes public health.
  • Mandate and enforce bus capacities following recommendations from the Health Unit regarding social distancing measures.  Consider running busses more often to accommodate the diminished capacity of each bus.
  • Provide transit workers with enough supplies to conduct their jobs as safely as possible, following all recommendations by the Health Unit.
  • Intensify cleaning regimens of busses.
  • Issue a public apology to the citizens of Windsor, LaSalle, Tecumseh and Leamington for the financial, physiological and psychological hardship you have brought to thousands of people and their families by suspending our essential transit service during a global health pandemic.
  • Change the refund amounts for all pass-holders to a full-cost refund.

The group is urging Dilkens to heed a request by Windsor-Essex County Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed, who recently issued a statement calling on the mayor to reinstate transit service.

Dilkens has said he will meet with Ahmed about the issue.

Detroit continues to provide public transportation

Protestors further argued that public transit in Windsor should be reinstated by pointing out that Detroit has maintained bus service with free fares during the ongoing pandemic. 

In a tweet published on Thursday, Dilkens shared a story from Detroit's Fox News affiliate about a Detroit bus driver who died of COVID-19. 

"My sincere condolences to this gentleman's family," wrote Dilkens. "Detroit bus driver dies of COVID-19 weeks after complaining of passenger's cough."

Ward 9 Coun. Kieran McKenzie replied, "With respect ... I believe that the politicization of the tragedy is offensive. I'll ask that you just delete this and make your point another way."

In response, Dilkens wrote, "I'd never politicize the loss of life Councillor. Our own bus drivers were concerned for their health and safety. This unfortunate death underscores their concern."

The tweets published by Dilkens and McKenzie haven't been deleted as of Friday evening. 

CBC News has not been able to independently confirm whether the bus driver died of COVID-19 virus or whether he contracted it at work.

The story itself also stated that the broadcast isn't able to say when the driver became sick or if driver's illness was connected to a female passenger that was coughing on his bus a few days earlier. 

@drewdilkens

In the meantime, Joe Bitonti — JC's father — has challenged the mayor and city councillors to help people who depend on the bus to connect with people who have offered rides.

"Post their phone numbers so the people around the city can call them for rides to get to go shopping and pick up groceries," said Bitonti.

Earlier this week, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also criticized Windsor's decision to suspend bus service.