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Saskatoon Transit asking to hire 6 support officers to patrol buses

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Saskatoon Transit is renewing calls for its own dedicated team of community support officers (CSOs) to help respond to incidents on buses and transit terminals.

On Tuesday, administration is asking the city’s transportation committee to approve its plan to put six new CSO positions up for deliberation in the next multi-year budget, at a cost of $278,600 for 2024 and $204,000 for 2025.

Administration says the support officers would provide a presence on buses, liaise with customers, develop relationships and manage incidents.

Transit administrators started exploring options for support workers on city buses in April, following reports of escalating violence and mental health-related incidents on public transit.

“Our transit operators are seeing increased incidents on the buses, whether it be violence, intoxicated passengers, illicit drug use on the buses or the unhoused riding around aimlessly,” union President Darcy Pederson told councillors in May.

There were 500 assaults on city buses in 2022, Pederson said, and in April there were four assaults in a seven-day period.

He said drivers are trained to operate the bus safely, not to intervene in mental health or addictions crises.

The decision whether to hire more support staff was delayed at the time, as the city then decided to bring the community support program under the control of the Saskatoon Fire Department beginning no later than December 2024. The program is currently run by the downtown business improvement district and paid for through parking fees in the core neighbourhoods.

In its recommendations to the transportation committee this week, administration asks that the potential new positions align with the transition of the current program to the fire department.

Downtown business improvement district Executive Director Brent Penner told city council in September the current CSOs are a little anxious about the transition.

“Whenever there’s a change; a potential change, that can cause consternation and angst from staff members. They have unanswered questions about what their working conditions will be like. They have unanswered questions about what their pay might be like,” he said.

“There’s lots of things that they’re not sure of.”

Penner agreed there was a lot of overlap between the roles of the CSOs and the fire department, but he said if there aren’t support officers available, typically it would be police that get the call instead.

According to a report from administration, Saskatoon Transit provided more than 10 million rides in 2022 and offers almost 350,000 hours of service per year.

A significant number of incidents occur at two terminals and on about 20 per cent of the routes, the report says.

The transportation committee meets on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

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