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Saskatoon bus drivers facing 'major crisis' of escalating violence, union says


The president of Saskatoon’s local transit union says he's concerned about a rise in assaults on transit operators directly related to unpaid fares and fare evasion.

Darcy Pederson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615, says a variety of circumstances have led to a portion of riders on Saskatoon Transit to not offer payment or expect to ride for free.

Any reminder from a bus driver to pay can lead to a potentially violent encounter, he says.

“This morning, we had an assault on one of the buses. (The driver) mentioned the fair, punched in the face,” Pederson told CTV News.

“We've had people spat on. We've had bear spray incidents on the bus. We've had knives in the downtown terminal, guns on the bus — there's a major crisis happening.”

Pederson said transit drivers are trained to safely operate a bus, not to intervene in mental health or addictions crises. However, he says those are often the situations playing out at terminals and inside the bus.


A report before the city’s transit committee on Tuesday shows unpaid fares have nearly tripled in the past year. About $24,500 of revenue was lost in 2021, while in 2022 that number rose to $67,800.

A separate report showed how broken of malfunctioning fare boxes also resulted in a loss — $165,000 for 2022, the report says.

Fare evasion is tracked by operators using the Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) on the bus.

Pederson says the problem is threefold. Saskatoon transit offered free fares for an extended period of time after COVID-19 arrived in the city. Now, riders are less likely to pay as they expect the ride to be free. Animosity between riders and drivers increased over that time because of plenty of disputes over masking, which was a requirement on the bus during that time.

Saskatoon Transit moved away from it’s canister-style coin fare boxes in 2010 and implemented the new payment in motion (PIM) boxes, which has faced “a number of challenges related to the reliability” since it was introduced, according to a report facing the committee.

Three years ago, Saskatoon Transit sought a replacement and implemented the Masabi ticketing system, which finished its rollout and was installed on every bus by the end of 2022.

However, Pederson says for years before the implementation, the boxes were rarely operating correctly or were broken altogether.

“We have fare boxes that are collecting the fare, and people that are used to not paying fare that come on the bus and quite a few times what will happen is they’ll just walk on the bus and not even look at the fare box,” he said.

The report says between Jan. 1, 2022 and Nov. 1, 2022, 20,705 instances of fare evasion was reported by driver.

Pederson said those numbers shouldn’t be considered accurate since many of the drivers stopped reporting fare evasions altogether since they’ve become so common.

“The operators are instructed not to enforce fare, and enforcing fare does cause issues,” he said. “And 90 per cent of our assaults are over fare disputes.”


Pederson said this isn’t just affecting drivers, but riders as well.

Two weeks ago, a 14-year-old girl, a daughter of a transit operator, had her bag stolen from a bus. She went to try and retrieve the bag and was “beaten up” by seven teenagers, Pederson said.

The administration report before the transit committee says a fare enforcement officer has never been considered by the city.

Pederson said maybe an enforcement officer isn’t the right answer, but some level of support is needed like more assault protection barriers and a support officer to deal with disputes and dangerous encounters.

He also wants de-escalation training and mental health supports offered to workers.

With the city looking to implement a Bus Rapid Transit system as it hopes to build a new downtown arena district in the coming years, Pederson said lost revenue and safety concerns should be addressed first.

“People don't understand how dangerous riding the bus is,” he said. “We need to build and make transit a safe, reliable system, and we're moving in the opposite direction.” Top Stories

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