Activists stage sit-in to protest suspension of Transit Windsor services
WINDSOR, ONT. -- A sit-in protest aims to pressure Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens to resume public transit service in the city.
On Friday, four activists — fewer than five people to keep in line with recommended gathering and physical distancing measures in place during the COVID-19 pandemic — began a sit-in protest at the downtown terminal of Transit Windsor to call for buses to run again with revised safety precautions.
“There is a way to do this as safely as possible,” said Livia Scebba, one of the protesters at the terminal. “You see the way that stores are implementing social distancing measures.”
Last Monday, bus service was shut down, with Mayor Drew Dilkens defending the move as a necessary measure to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in the community.
“Closing the system for two weeks I think was the right thing to do to allow us to fully sanitize the buses,” said Dilkens on Friday.
The service suspension, lasting until at least April 13, followed a blame game between the mayor and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 616, whose members work for Transit Windsor.
Dilkens claims the union was unwilling to allow non-ATU members to meet increased sanitization efforts on city buses or demanded overtime pay; but ATU Local 616 Secretary Treasurer Mel Young claims his members were willing to work without overtime and allow city workers to help after canvassing ATU members.
“This devastatingly impacts our marginalized populations, people [who] don’t have access to vehicles and don’t actually have the ability to access an Uber or a taxi, because it’s very expensive,” said Scebba.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has not recommended the closure of public transit and in a statement in response to the closure, noted the service was an important mode of transportation that could be offered with necessary precautions.
“Under the right circumstances, such as employing appropriate environmental cleaning practices and managing the number and space of passengers, public transit can serve as an important means of transportation to access food, supplies, or go to work for essential workers who may not have a private vehicle or other options," said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex. "Individuals who are high-risk for contracting COVID-19 such as seniors and individuals with underlying medical conditions should not take public transit and should try to arrange for delivery of supplies to their home.“
J.C. Bitonti attended the protest and is a transit user herself.
“Today felt like a really good day to show up with a physical action to show the city that people who use transit really need it,” said Bitoni in an interview with CTV News.
“I just want people who aren’t up to speed on this issue to see that it’s impacting a lot of folks.”
Transit Windsor’s cancellation followed the temporary suspension of Detroit’s Q-Line transit service on March 29.
In a case that has highlighted the dangers presented by public transit during the COVID-19 pandemic, on Wednesday, a Detroit bus driver, Jason Hargrove, died after complaining on Facebook of a passenger repeatedly coughing on his bus.
Bitonti appreciates the risks, but sees public transit as an essential service that can be maintained with appropriate precautions.
“Yeah, it’s super valid to want to protect the city from the spread of a virus, but there are lots of other metropolitan cities across the U.S. and Canada [that] are taking precautionary measures to keep transit running — it is an essential service,” says Bitonti.
The protesters plan to return to the downtown Transit Windsor terminal every day until the service is re-instated.
City council has voted to reimburse Transit Windsor pass holders. The move will cost the city nearly $600,000 to reimburse the 21,000 pass holders — ranging in individual payments from $25 to $75.