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TTC won't fight fares

May 25, 2006. 07:03 AM

The TTC is free, if you want it.

Bus and streetcar drivers are no longer going to make sure you pay your fare as a long-simmering battle between the TTC and its union erupted yesterday with a job action that could result in free rides for the public and the loss of millions of dollars in revenue for the transit authority.

“It will be up to the travelling public whether or not they want to make a contribution to the box,” said Bob Kinnear, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents 8,500 TTC workers.

Rick Ducharme, the chief general manager of the TTC, called Kinnear’s job action “irresponsible” while saying it was “premature” to calculate lost revenues.

But TTC chairman Howard Moscoe said he believed most riders will continue to pay their fares.

“I think people in Toronto believe in paying their way for the service they get,” said Moscoe. “Our experience with the POP � the honour system on the Queen St. streetcar � has proved that 98 per cent of people honour that system and pay their fares.”

This is the latest skirmish between the TTC and its union, which have battled over security issues, health benefits, job evaluation and, most recently, the reassignment to more night shifts for janitors. The union had threatened an illegal strike over the new maintenance staff schedule, which kicks in Sunday.

“To me, this is a backlash from that,” said Ducharme. “He’s using the operators as pawns on that issue…. There’s no coincidence here.”

According to a 2005 TTC task force on driver safety, 70 per cent of drivers had been assaulted in their career. Operators complain they are routinely kicked, punched, slapped, verbally abused and spit upon and suffer from mental distress, physical pain and worry about the spread of disease through saliva.

“Imagine what Loblaws would do if some of its customers started slapping or punching or spitting on cashiers because they were unhappy with Loblaws’ prices of service,” said Kinnear.

Kinnear called it a matter of “self-defence” given that TTC statistics indicate assaults against operators rose 31 per cent between 1999 and 2003, culminating last October in the shooting of a bus driver in the Morningside-Old Finch-Ave. area. in the northeast section of the city.

“What is happening to us is inhumane and we are simply not going to stand for it anymore,” said Kinnear.

Ducharme, who acknowledged drivers are assaulted once or twice a day, said the TTC supports its staff and reassigns workers if they feel they can’t drive anymore.

Kinnear said the job action would continue until TTC commissioners ensured no wages would be lost for drivers who are forced to go on workers compensation after serious injury or mental stress.

Currently, those drivers only get 75 per cent of their income.