Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Jason Watts hides in the washroom right up until the moment his shift as a bus driver in Toronto’s transit system begins.

The Toronto Transit Commission worker is terrified of contracting COVID-19, so he tries to minimize his exposure.

“If I’m standing in the station, people will come up and ask questions and forget about the social distancing – or maybe they don’t care,” Watts said.

Story continues below advertisement

It’s part of a series of procedures he undergoes to protect himself. He would prefer to wear a mask, but the TTC is not providing them to bus operators, he said.

“I would appreciate the option to have a mask to wear should I feel the need to,” Watts said. “I’m scared.”

On Wednesday, more than two dozen of Watts’ colleagues, all TTC bus drivers, refused to work over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

A similar situation is playing out with work refusals across Canada, said John Di Nino, head of Amalgamated Transit Union Canada, which represents 35,000 workers.

“They are concerned all the measures in place are not providing adequate protection and they want the next level, which are the masks,” he said.

So far, about 50 transit workers represented by the union have tested positive for COVID-19, Di Nino said.

The Toronto chapter of the ATU said 17 TTC workers, including bus and subway operators, have tested positive for the disease.

Story continues below advertisement

“Our members are scared, and the longer this goes on the more cases will appear,” said ATU Local 113 president Carlos Santos.

“I think the TTC does have a responsibility to make our workers feel safe – and if making them feel safe is providing them with PPE, then give them PPE.”

An inspector with the Ministry of Labour ruled the drivers must return to work because the situation didn’t meet the conditions of a work refusal, Santos said.

TTC spokesman Stuart Green said the inspector cited multiple measures that help protect transit operators from COVID-19, including Plexiglas barricades, blocking off seats immediately behind the bus driver, and the use of rear-door boarding.

The TTC said it’s in the process of acquiring reusable and washable masks for all staff, but it is weeks away from being able to distribute them. The only operators being given masks are those who drive Wheel-Trans buses to transport people with disabilities.

In Halifax, transit union leaders have been expressing concern about their safety since the earliest days of the pandemic, calling for a pause in operations to clean the buses and negotiate safety provisions.

Story continues below advertisement

Ken Wilson, president of Local 508 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said many passengers are not travelling to essential jobs and do not respect physical distancing rules on the buses and ferries.

Halifax Transit recently imposed added safety measures with alternating seats blocked off in buses and in stations, while capacity on ferries is reduced to 25 passengers per trip.

Wilson said it’s not going far enough as it still allows up to 18 passengers on a 12-metre bus.

In Montreal, Renato Carlone, president of the union that represents 4,700 of the city’s bus and metro employees, said at least 15 bus drivers have already become infected with COVID-19. Hundreds more of his members are off work for various reasons related to the pandemic, he said.

The union launched an advertising campaign asking public transit users to wear masks. Carlone said he is also calling on the city’s transit authority to limit bus capacity to 15 passengers and to 150 people on the metro.

As Quebec begins re-opening the economy, his members fear buses and metros will only get more crowded, putting workers at risk.

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s hard enough to maintain a two-metre distance from someone on a bus,” he said. “That’s why we are asking people to wear masks. It’s the least we can do.”

Philippe Dery, spokesman for the city’s transit authority, the Societe de transport de Montreal, said the agency is following the province’s public health directives, which do not recommend widespread mask usage.

In an ugly turn last week in Edmonton, police said they charged a man with COVID-19 for allegedly coughing on a bus driver and police officers last week. The 38-year-old man faces two counts of assault and contravening an order by the chief medical officer.

Over the weekend, an unnamed Metro Vancouver bus driver took to YouTube to share his fears about COVID-19 and plead with the public.

“Don’t get on the bus,” he said. “You don’t need to be out. Don’t get on the bus – it’s that simple.”

Watts, the Toronto bus driver, deals with his own cognitive dissonance. On one hand, he believes he’s more essential than ever as he drives health-care workers and others to the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

Story continues below advertisement

On the other hand, he worries about the coronavirus sneaking onto a bus he’s driving.

“In this job, all you have is time – time to think and think and think,” he said.

“I feel like I’m taking people to the netherworld.”

– with files from Michael Tutton in Halifax and Giuseppe Valiante in Montreal

Now that it is recommended you wear a face covering in dense public settings like grocery stores and pharmacies, watch how to make the three masks recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Written instructions available at The Globe and Mail

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies