A bus driver wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 as the digital sign on the front of the bus reminds passengers that masks are mandatory on public transit, in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

TransLink CEO asks riders not to enforce mask rules after Surrey bus punch-up

A fight broke out on a bus at 96 Avenue and Scott Road involving a man who refused to wear a mask

Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, is asking bus and SkyTrain passengers not to attempt to enforce mandatory mask-wearing regulations after what began as a friendly offer to provide another passenger with a mask ended in a punch-up on a Surrey bus.

Constable Mike Yake, Transit Police spokesman, said the fight happened on a bus at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, at 96th Avenue and Scott Road. He said a passenger was sitting on his bus seat when another guy entered not wearing a mask. “The man removed a spare mask from his bag and offered it to the other man.

“The other man declined the invitation for the mask,” Yake said. “The man then asked the suspect if he was medically exempt from wearing a mask, and at that point the suspect became upset and belligerent.”

READ ALSO UPDATED: Surrey RCMP arrest six youths after fight involving airsoft pistol in Newton

At that point, Yake said, the victim stood up to confront the suspect about not wearing the mask he’d offered “and at that point the suspect allegedly punched the victim in the head, which led to the fight on the bus.”

Passengers looked on, stunned, as the fight spilled out onto the street.

The victim was taken to hospital to be treated for a cut above his eye. Yake said police are looking a CCTV footage from the bus, and other video, in an effort to locate the suspect.

“We’re still looking for him,” Yake said.

Meantime, TransLink’s third open virtual board meeting in 2020, was livestreamed Monday morning. Its last meeting was four months ago.

Desmond reviewed TransLink’s Safe Operating Action Plan, or SOAP.

“The best thing that our customers can do is make their own healthy choices. Wash your hands, please wear a mask, don’t touch your mouth or eyes while you’re riding,” he said.

Desmond said since TransLink launched its “Wearing is Caring” campaign in June, “and despite considerable awareness building, over the weeks following we only saw about a 30 to 40 per cent compliance with our voluntary request to please mask up.”

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TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond. (File photo: Katya Slepian)

As of Aug. 24, it has been mandatory for passengers to wear a mask or other face covering while riding on public transit with the exception of people who can’t for medical reasons.

“We’re now between 92 and 95 per cent compliance,” Desmond said Monday, “based on our own spot checks.

Saturday’s “confrontation” in Surrey, he said, “is concerning to us. Perhaps not unexpected and fortunately this is the only such incident that I’m at least aware of, at this point in time.”

Desmond said TransLink takes all incidents of violence and harassment on the system “very seriously.” That said, “We also ask our customers not to attempt to enforce TransLink’s mandatory mask policy themselves. Please don’t do that.”

Instead, he advises passengers to alert TransLink police or security by using the silent alarms that are on board.

Michel Ladrak, president and general manager of the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Limited (BCRTC), said most of the assaults against employees are not physical but rather involve swearing, bullying and intimidation. “It’s often drunk people, and you have those everywhere,” he said. “We’ve seen a couple of instances where people coughed deliberately on our staff and said they had COVID.”

The meeting heard that assaults are down on public transit because ridership is down.

Michael McDaniel, president and general manager of Coast Mount Bus Company, said that between Jan. 1 and June 30 of 2020 CMBC recorded 37 operator assaults. That’s lower than 48 in the same period last year and the fewer assaults this year is likely due to a significant drop in ridership because of the pandemic.

McDaniel noted that when the company went to rear-door boarding and ceased fare collection in March to June 1, “just as a bit of a barometer,” the number of calls transit security received for people sleeping on the bus and “other challenges with challenging passengers – those calls literally doubled month-to-month from previous years.

“Obviously, losing a little bit more control of who entered the bus, these incidents obviously increased dramatically,” McDaniel said. “As such, we saw more interactions with problem passengers and our security teams, transit supervisors helped each day to keep our operators safe and our customers safe. But what you did see was more altercations relative to the amount of ridership.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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