Management cuts corners on safety to save money, charges union
(Canadian OH&S News) — The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is moving ahead with its plan to adopt the One-Person Train Operation (OPTO) system. While some have expressed doubts about the system’s safety, TTC spokespeople are defending it as safe and efficient.
OPTO, which will use only one staff member on each train, will debut on Line 4, or the Sheppard line, on Oct. 9. In the current system, a TTC subway train employs two people, a driver at the front and a guard in another car; OPTO will eliminate the guards and make one worker responsible for both driving a train and operating the doors while checking the passengers entering and exiting.
“It’s a function that is now being automated,” said TTC media representative Stuart Green, regarding the guard’s job. Video cameras at subway stations will allow drivers to view the passengers through monitors, he explained. “There’s nothing to suggest that the cameras can’t do the job that the guard position does now.”
Green added that major subway systems around the world had already been using OPTO for a long time, including the London Underground and the Montreal Metro. Even the TTC’s own Line 3, which runs above the ground through Scarborough, has been working with one operator per train since it opened in 1985. The TTC approved a plan to expand the system to Line 4 on March 26 of last year (COHSN, April 7, 2015).
“The reason that we haven’t done it until now is because we didn’t feel the technology was there,” said Green, referring to OPTO on subways. “This is just another step in the modernization of the Toronto Transit Commission.”
In a Sept. 28 press release from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents TTC frontline workers, union president Bob Kinnear stated that management should consult with the public before going through with OPTO on subways. Kinnear cited a recent ATU survey of Toronto residents, conducted through Mainstreet Research, which had found that two-thirds of respondents opposed getting rid of guards. Focus groups yielded similar results, he claimed.
“Almost everyone in the focus groups was shocked to learn of the TTC’s plan. And when they learned that the cost of the guard was less than five cents per TTC ride, they were quite adamant that this was a very small price to pay for an added layer of security,” said Kinnear. “People do not like this idea at all.”
Kinnear also said that TTC CEO Andy Byford had cited transit systems in London and Madrid as shining examples of successful OPTO use, “but obviously forgot that hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured by terrorist attacks on these two cities’ transit systems.
“TTC management tells employees, ‘If you see something, say something,’ then cuts the people who could see that something. It makes no sense.”
But Green offered that OPTO was actually safer for both riders and staff.
“In terms of operator safety, you’re removing the need for someone to physically put their head outside a window, to open a window and expose them to elements,” he said. “We’ve had incidents where operators have been assaulted, where they’ve had things thrown at them.” Other employees had been struck by flying debris from the tracks, he added.
“These are actual reported incidents where the operator has had to file an occupational health and safety report.”
The TTC plans to launch OPTO on the subway’s Line 1, which runs down Yonge Street and up University Avenue, shortly after the Sheppard conversion. Green estimated that the Commission would save about $18 million a year by cutting guards on these two lines. “It’s just efficiency,” he said.
But there are no planned layoffs following OPTO adoption, he stressed. “We’re going to need some new operators once the Yonge-University extension opens up to York Region,” said Green. “We’ll just have to have more trains on the system at that point.”
Kinnear maintained that cutting these corners was a bad idea, especially when guards play crucial roles in medical emergencies, passenger alarms and evacuations.
“It defies common sense to claim that eliminating staff trained in security issues will have no impact on safety,” he said.