Unions clash over report about crimes on Toronto transit buses
Fraud, physical assault allegedly common on certain routes
By Jeff Cottrill
Health & Safety
(Canadian OH&S News) — Union leaders representing special constables and other workers on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) are calling for better security for employees and passengers on buses and streetcars, following a recent analysis by the Toronto Star naming specific routes on the transit system that allegedly experience crime more than others do.
The Star report, published on March 8, claimed that the 36 Finch West bus route in the north of the city was the most vulnerable to crime, with 322 reported incidents since 2010. Second was the 35 bus on Jane Street, with 260 incidents, followed by the 32 Eglinton West bus with 164 and the 41 Keele Street bus with 161.
Although fraud is the most commonly reported crime, including the use of fake monthly passes, assaults on drivers have been especially common on the Eglinton route, the Star report added. The story also cited specific incidents, such as a passenger who had threatened to rip out the driver’s throat and then thrown a beer bottle at the bus after getting off, and a man who had threatened to smear his bloody knuckles on another driver after claiming to have the HIV virus.
“The TTC is continually looking at ways to ensure and improve upon the safety of employees and customers,” the Commission said in an e-mailed statement to COHSN. “The TTC remains one of the safest transit systems in the world; if there are specific issues on routes that need addressing, the TTC will address [them] through increased patrols by the TTC and/or police.”
The TTC added that there had been a decline in driver assaults for three straight years. “Operator barriers, CCTV and the TTC’s award-winning court-advocate program continue to help keep operators safe.”
In a March 9 press release, James Bingham — president of Local 5089 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 5089), which represents TTC special constables — said that the constables, who have the same authority as police officers have, are doing their best to ensure staff and customer safety.
“They do this job under incredibly challenging circumstances and limited resources,” said Bingham. “No one benefits from armchair quarterbacks taking potshots in the media.”
Bingham was apparently referring to comments in the Star by Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, which represents other TTC employees. Kinnear told the newspaper on March 8 that the constables are not taken seriously by the public, who question the officers’ level of authority, and suggested that the TTC replace them with “real police officers.”
Kinnear did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment. He had also told the Star that the constables tend to arrive “after the storm” and that the ATU refers to them as the “rainbow squad.”
“The key to addressing these issues is not attacking the people who are sworn to protect TTC riders and employees,” said Bingham. “No one is served by such an approach, whether we’re talking about safety and security, overcrowding… or ensuring the system meets acceptable standards of cleanliness.”
Bingham added that instead of blaming, all parties involved should be cooperating, “to ensure all aspects of the TTC have the resources and the support they need to improve the system and make sure everyone — riders and staff — get[s] to their destination safely.”