As of October 3, 2020, face coverings are mandatory in all public indoor settings in Ontario, including on public transit. Learn what this means for you.

Minister’s message

Protecting Transit Workers and Passengers

As the province begins to reopen and more people start heading back to work, it is imperative that we do everything we can to protect transit workers and passengers. We want everyone who uses a train, bus or street car to feel safe and confident.

Although we are making steady progress to contain COVID-19, the virus continues to pose a serious health threat for everyone, especially for our most vulnerable citizens. We need to continue to be vigilant to try and prevent any further spikes or outbreaks.

That’s why our government, in consultation with public health and transit officials, have produced this guidance document specifically designed for public transit agencies. This document outlines best practices and strong recommendations for transit agencies to better protect staff and passengers as they get back out into the community. It provides consistent, clear and practical information that transit agencies can use to help prevent the spread and reassure the public that taking public transit is safe.

The health and well-being of transit workers and all Ontarians is our top priority – one that we share with transit agencies and stakeholders alike. Our government is committed to continuing to work closely with our partners to find solutions to the challenges we are all facing due to COVID-19.

This guidance document for transit agencies is another important tool to support and protect those providing critical services across the province. I want to thank all of our transit agencies and workers for all that they are doing to keep the people of Ontario moving safely.

I strongly encourage all transit agencies to review our guidance document and adopt these guidelines and tips. We all need to work together to protect staff and passengers while we fight to contain this global pandemic.

Together, I know we will come out of this stronger.

- Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation

Purpose

The purpose of this guide is to support public transit employers and passengers in Ontario in response to COVID-19. It seeks to support continuity of operations, or resumption of operations, under the safest and healthiest possible conditions in the context of COVID-19. The information presented in this guidance document are best practices and tips to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 on public transit and will remain in effect until further notice by provincial public health officials.

Overview

This is not a legal document – public transit employers are advised to seek legal advice regarding their obligations under relevant collective agreements and legislation, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations to protect workers from hazards in the workplace.

Guidance from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and/or the local medical officer of health is also being released, such as Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health’s guidance to all transit agencies re: COVID-19 precautions on public transportation, dated May 15th, 2020. This guidance is not legally binding.

In this guidance document, examples are provided while recognizing that responses to COVID-19 will not be a one size fits all model – each transit agency will need to take different factors and local circumstances into account in considering and developing their own approaches.

Transit agencies should use their discretion when implementing the suggested measures, while continuing to prioritize the health and safety of their workers and passengers.

This guidance document recognizes that not all recommendations may be feasible or appropriate in every circumstance or for every transit employer. Rather, it is intended to set forward best practices and tips that should be considered where feasible and appropriate.

Also, it should be noted that this is a living document that will continue to be updated in consultation with public health officials, transit agencies and other stakeholders.

Transit Employers

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, transit employers have a duty to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker.

Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work. If health and safety concerns are not resolved internally, a worker may seek enforcement by filing a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s Health and Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008. Failure of the employer to comply with the OHSA and its regulations could result in a stop-work order upon inspection by the Ministry.

Furthermore, transit employers have an obligation to take reasonable precautions to protect workers from hazards in the workplace, as set out in the OHSA and its regulations. Transit employers should also consult with public health officials as to any public health guidance that may apply to their transit employees.

Workers should raise any concerns to their:

  • Supervisor
  • Joint Health and Safety Committee
  • Health and Safety Representative

Employers also must abide by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) to ensure health and safety practices are accessible to workers with disabilities.

Transit Passengers

Transit passengers are required to abide by municipal or local board by-laws that regulate the use of public transit.

Municipal transit agencies are encouraged to develop policies and procedures for transit passengers that prioritize the health and safety of both workers and passengers.

In some select municipalities, emergency measures have included temporarily suspending municipal transit; however, in the large majority of municipalities across Ontario, transit services have continued, with some reduced service due to lower demand.

(1) Transit Employers

The health and safety of workers is a top concern in response to COVID-19.

Employers must ensure they are operating in accordance with all applicable laws, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the regulations made under it.

Transit employers should also consult with public health officials as to any applicable public health measures issued by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health or the local medical officer of health that may apply to their transit employees.

To support public transit agencies during this time, included below are best practices and tips for transit employers to help in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

Management and communication of infection prevention and control/occupational health and safety information

  • Communicate infection prevention and control (IPAC)/occupational health and safety policies and procedures to all employees in an accessible format.
  • Communicate information about COVID-19 policies to all employees in an accessible format. These policies should cover how the workplace will operate, including but not limited to:
    • The sanitization of workplaces, including appropriate equipment
    • Proper hygiene and respiratory etiquette
    • Other control measures (e.g., personal protective equipment (PPE), physical barriers, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects, etc.)
    • How workers and contractors report illnesses
    • How to encourage physical distancing
    • How work will be scheduled
  • Track where workers have worked, where possible.
  • If a worker tests positive for COVID-19, the local public health unit will conduct contact tracing to identify anyone who was in close contact with the infected worker. Employers may be asked to provide information on where the worker worked, as well as the contact information of any other worker who may have been exposed.
  • Workers who are worried they have COVID-19 or may have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 are encouraged to get a test.

Reporting requirements

If an employer is advised that a worker has tested positive for COVID-19 due to exposure at the workplace, or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the employer is required to give notice in writing within four days to:

  • The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development
  • The workplace’s joint health and safety committee or a health and safety representative
  • The worker’s trade union (if applicable)

Instances of occupationally acquired disease shall be reported to WSIB, and a copy of the notification to the worker, within three days of receiving notification of the occupational disease. footnote 2

Review policies and procedures for infection prevention and control/occupational health and safety

Review IPAC/occupational health and safety policies and procedures. Policies and procedures should consider recommendations and any guidance from the Ontario Ministry of Health and resources from Public Health Ontario.

The policies and procedures should consider and address levels of risk associated with the workplace and job tasks within transit operations, and should include all job categories, including transit operators, transit cleaning and maintenance works, and all frontline and office staff.

The policies should include what control measures will be implemented by the transit organization and how it will operate in response to COVID-19, including protocols for disinfection of the workplace and equipment, how employees report illness, how to encourage physical distancing, where possible and how work could be scheduled or how some employees could work remotely.

Implement control measures

Exclusion of symptomatic workers from the workplace

Persons exhibiting symptoms may form part of the COVID-19 chain of transmission in the workplace. The following procedures can help reduce the transmission of COVID-19:

  • Workers are informed that if they are experiencing signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19, they should go home immediately, seek medical attention (i.e., primary care provider or call Telehealth Ontario), and they must not report to work. A full list of symptoms can be found here.
  • Additionally, a self-assessment tool can be found here.
  • The employer ensures that workers who have COVID-19 symptoms do not report to work.
  • If a worker has symptoms or thinks they were exposed to COVID-19, they should notify their supervisor immediately for case management and cleaning/disinfection purposes. They should go home immediately and seek medical attention by contacting their primary care provider or Telehealth Ontario or get tested at a COVID-19 assessment centre. Information about assessment centres is accessible on Ontario's dedicated COVID-19 website.
  • The Joint Health and Safety Committee, as well as groups with human resource functions, should also be notified of situations where workers leave work due to COVID-19-like symptoms. This process should be initiated by their supervisor.

Physical distancing

  • Whenever possible, a minimum of 2-metres (6 feet) of distancing between people should be maintained at work all day.
  • Wherever possible, any physical contact should be discouraged between people at work.
  • Establish procedures and controls to help limit exposure between passengers and the transit operator.
  • Where possible, institute measures to physically separate or impose the physical distance of at least 2-metres between transit operators and passengers. This could be done by use of physical partitions, visual cues or signage to limit proximity to the transit operator.

Where physical separation or distancing cannot be achieved or maintained, a risk assessment (or job hazard analysis) should be performed.

Examples of control measures at stations and in vehicles and facilities (i.e., garages and depots), may include:

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Transit agency staff completing tasks that require them to be less than 2-metres from another person without a physical barrier (e.g., plexiglass barrier, full partition), may require personal protection equipment (PPE), including a surgical mask/procedure mask and eye protection (e.g., goggles, face shield). This includes transit operators assigned to conventional or specialized transit vehicles. The use of respirators (including N95 respirators and equivalent or higher protection equipment) is not recommended as protection against COVID-19 for transit workers.
  • Note: Any physical barrier or modification should be compliant with all applicable federal and provincial legislation and not interfere with or affect the safe operation of the transit vehicle.

Physical Barriers

  • Where a 2-metre physical distance cannot be established between workstations, consider installing physical barriers (e.g., plexiglass barrier, full partition) between them.
  • Consider installing physical barriers between passengers, such as collapsible aisle barriers or markers between seats.
  • As transit agencies shift from rear door boarding procedures back to front door boarding procedures and resume collecting fares, consider installing physical barriers (e.g., plexiglass barrier, full partition) between the transit operator and the passengers, or alternative mitigation measures identified through a risk assessment.
  • Note: Any physical barrier or modification should be compliant with all applicable federal and provincial legislation and not interfere with or affect the safe operation of the transit vehicle.

Hand Hygiene

Frequent hand washing with lukewarm water and soap for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer limits the risks of transmission in the work environment, especially:

  • After entering the workplace.
  • Before touching the face (e.g., eyes, nose, mouth).
  • After coughing, sneezing or wiping the nose.
  • Before and after eating.
  • Before and after handling or touching shared objects and surfaces that are frequently touched (e.g., doorknobs).
  • After using the bathroom.
  • Before and after using PPE.

Maintain the availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes for transit operators and passengers upon entrance to and exit from the transit vehicle.

Payment

  • Provide services virtually where possible or curtail non-essential services.
  • Whenever possible, avoid exchanging paper products (e.g., cash for fare collection, purchase orders, receipts, correspondence).
  • Favour contactless payment (e.g., tapping credit or debit cards).
  • If contactless payment is not possible, encourage transactions at kiosks, particularly for applying fares to transit passes.
  • If it is necessary to exchange paper products or handle cash, employees should perform hand hygiene before and after handling the cash or paper products.

Respiratory Etiquette

All workers and passengers should be encouraged and reminded to practice proper respiratory etiquette by:

  • Covering their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze using the crook of their elbow or tissues that are immediately discarded in the appropriate disposal receptacle, followed by performing hand hygiene. No-touch garbage bins (such as garbage cans with a foot pedal) are preferred for disposal.
  • Washing hands frequently.
  • Not touching their mouth, nose or eyes with gloved or bare unwashed hands.

Cleaning and disinfecting measures for tools, equipment and frequently touched objects and surfaces

Given that the virus responsible for COVID-19 has been detected on surfaces and, based on experience with other similar viruses, this may be a source of infection, application of hygiene measures is essential:

  • Develop a COVID-19 hygiene, cleaning and disinfection protocol, particularly including:
    • Cleaning and disinfection procedure
    • Product storage and contaminated waste management procedure (newspapers, cleaning cloths)
    • Employee training and information
  • According to Public Health Ontario, in addition to routine cleaning, objects and surfaces that have frequent contact with hands should be cleaned and disinfected at least twice per day and when visibly dirty. footnote 3 This includes washroom facilities.
  • Clean meal areas before eac<h meal and disinfect them at least twice per day. For example:
    • Refrigerator door handles
    • Chair backs
    • Microwaves
    • Tables
    • Counters
    • Faucets
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces when they are visibly soiled and disinfect them at least twice per day. For example:
    • Fare payment areas
    • Workstations
    • Doorknobs
    • Toilets
    • Sinks
    • Telephones
    • Computer accessories
    • Pencils
  • Clean and disinfect a transit operator’s station at least twice per day. Pay special attention to surfaces frequently touched during driving, such as:
    • The steering wheel
    • The interior and exterior door handles
    • The interior rear-review mirror
    • The seat belt
    • The seat
    • Both sides of the physical barrier
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in the transit vehicles (e.g., seat belts, straps, handrails, buzzers, doors, seats, washroom facilities) at an appropriate frequency (e.g., some transit agencies have established a standard operating procedure of twice per day cleaning and disinfecting for transit vehicles).
  • Avoid sharing material or equipment. When it is impossible to avoid sharing, disinfect shared workstations and tools before using them.
  • Use appropriate cleaning products or disinfectants. Refer to Health Canada’s list of disinfectants.
  • During cleaning and disinfection, wear leakproof gloves (e.g., disposable gloves). Caution and proper safety procedures for removing the gloves should be followed. An instructional video on how to properly remove gloves can be found here. Soiled disposable gloves should be discarded in lined garbage receptacles, or stored in sealed disposable plastic bags until they can be properly disposed of if a garbage bin is not available.
  • Remove non-essential objects (e.g., magazines, newspapers, etc.) from common areas.

Examples of control measures for office settings may include:

  • Have staff work from home whenever possible (i.e., office staff) and consider alternative arrangements for staff at higher risk for adverse health complications from COVID-19 (e.g., older adults, people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions) footnote 4 , whenever possible.
  • Provide services virtually where possible or curtail non-essential services.
  • If applicable, hold virtual meetings (do not hold meetings that require a physical gathering).
  • Stagger start times, breaks and lunches to prevent crowding in common areas.
  • To the extent possible, have alcohol-based hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes available to employees, for use in their own and shared workstations.
  • Alter the workplace layout of the floor by moving or removing furniture or use visual cues, such as tape on the floor to enhance physical distancing.
  • Restrict visitors and limit workplace entry to only essential personnel.
  • Inform suppliers, subcontractors, and partners of the measures implemented to control the risks associated with COVID-19 and the importance of complying with these measures.

Guidance for transit agencies to help keep passengers safe

Safely directing passenger flows

Consider protocols to safely direct the flow of passengers using signage, personnel and/or physical markers, including the following:

  • Establishing one-way flow of pedestrian traffic when entering stations, passing through fare gates, and boarding and deboarding transit vehicles
  • Using physical markers (such as seat and floor decals) between seats in stations and vehicles

Support and enable physical distancing

Wherever possible:

  • Consider scheduling to reduce crowding, particularly during peak times
  • Consider allowing additional boarding and de-boarding time
  • Consider plans to address crowding in the event of unplanned delays or higher than anticipated ridership demand
  • Consider limiting seating on transit vehicles to promote physical distancing, for example blocking off seats in close proximity with signage to limit passengers sitting adjacent to one another
  • Consider installing physical barriers between passengers, where applicable
  • Use physical markers (such as seat and floor decals) between seats in stations and vehicles

Cleaning and disinfecting measures

  • To the extent possible, maintain the availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes upon entrance and exit to the vehicle and throughout the station.
  • As maintaining the availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes may not always be possible, encourage passengers to carry and use their own alcohol-based hand sanitizer when taking transit.
  • In addition to daily routine cleaning, all high-touch surfaces (e.g., in-station customer/high traffic touchpoints), such as door handles, handrails, fare devices and countertops should be cleaned frequently. footnote 5
  • Develop a hygiene, cleaning and disinfection protocol for transit vehicles.

Communications/marketing

  • Install posters in transit vehicles and at appropriate access points in stations with public health information, including protocols to help avoid transmission to transit workers and other passengers. This may include recommending that passengers wear face coverings or non-medical masks, particularly when physical distancing is not possible, and reminding them of the importance of proper and regular hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Make passengers aware of the need to discard used tissues, face coverings or non-medical masks or other personal items in lined garbage bins; no-touch garbage bins (such as garbage cans with a foot pedal) are preferred for disposal.
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive communications/marketing campaign that focuses on health and safety for everyone in order to reassure passengers. This should include providing posters and messaging (e.g., safety never stops) in visible accessible places where passengers can see (e.g., waiting areas, platforms, washrooms, signage of seats, vehicles, stairwells, etc.) footnote 6
  • Reinforce customer benefits and safety measures to encourage passengers to return to transit.

(2) Transit Passengers

Everyone must comply with provincial emergency orders to restrict gatherings and should follow public health guidance and recommendations for physical distancing and limiting travel where possible.

All measures taken to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 should be done in consultation with any applicable public health guidance issued by the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health (e.g., the Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health’s guidance dated May 15th to all transit agencies re: COVID-19 precautions on public transportation) or advice of local medical officers of health as applicable.

Below are best practices and tips to help transit agencies and passengers reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

We recognize that not all recommendations may be feasible or appropriate in every circumstance or for every transit provider. Rather, these best practices and tips should be considered where possible.

Guidance for Transit Passengers to Help Keep Themselves and Other Passengers Safe

Symptomatic and COVID-19-exposed passengers

Passengers who exhibit signs and symptoms should refrain from taking public transit and postpone their purchases of passes, make them online or send someone in their place to purchase them on their behalf.

Anyone who has symptoms associated with COVID-19 or has travelled outside the country within the last 14 days or has had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, should not take public transit. Personal or private transportation should be arranged, where possible.

For the benefit of all passengers, transit agencies may consider implementing passive screening by hanging posters at all station entrances asking people with symptoms to refrain from entering or boarding. These posters can include a list of signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

A full list of signs and symptoms can be found here.

Additionally, a self-assessment tool can be found here.

Physical distancing

Passengers are recommended to:

  • Maintain a minimum of 2 metres (6 feet) of distancing between people as part of their journey.
  • When maintaining a 2-metre distance on transit vehicles may not practical or possible, the multiple layers of recommended protection (i.e., face coverings or non-medical masks, physical barriers between driver and passengers, and physical distancing between passengers, where applicable) should be emphasized.
  • Avoid physical contact (e.g., handshakes, hugs, etc.).

Face coverings or non-medical masks

To help reduce the transmission of COVID-19, it is highly recommended that transit passengers wear a face covering or non-medical mask at all times during their travels on public transit.

This is particularly important when physical distancing cannot be maintained. In addition to a face covering or non-medical mask, layers of protection are ideal in close quarters (e.g., physical barriers).

For additional information on face coverings or non-medical masks, consult:

It is highly recommended that passengers wear a face covering or non-medical mask:

  • Where possible and as tolerated, at all times during their travels
  • During the transit trip when they cannot physically distance from others
  • As directed by the transit agency or a Canadian public health official

A face covering or non-medical mask should not be worn by:

  • Young children, particularly children under the age of 2 years old
  • Passengers who have breathing difficulties that are unrelated to COVID-19 footnote 7

For information on making face coverings and non-medical masks, consult Non-medical masks and face coverings.

Hand hygiene

Encourage passengers to carry and use their own alcohol-based hand sanitizer when taking transit.

Additionally, after their journey is completed, passengers are encouraged to perform hand hygiene (either washing their hands with lukewarm water and soap for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer), whenever possible.

Link to Public Health Ontario hand hygiene guidance.

Payment

  • Whenever possible, avoid exchanging paper products (cash for fare collection, purchase orders, receipts, correspondence).
  • Favour contactless payment (e.g., tapping credit or debit cards).

Respiratory etiquette

At all times during their journey, passengers are recommended to respect respiratory etiquette by:

  • Covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing using the crook of their elbow or tissues that are immediately discarded in the appropriate disposal receptacle, followed by performing hand hygiene. No-touch garbage bins (such as garbage cans with a foot pedal) are preferred for disposal.
  • Practicing frequent hand hygiene
  • Not touching their mouth, nose or eyes with their hands

Practices to reduce close contact when travelling

Whenever possible, passengers are encouraged to:

  • Travel during non-peak hours and take shorter trips to avoid prolonged close contact with others footnote 8

Additional Useful Links and Resources

Other Government and Agency-issued Resources About COVID-19

The Ontario Ministry of Health is providing consistent updates on the provincial government’s response to the outbreak, including:

  • Status of cases in Ontario
  • Current affected areas
  • Symptoms and treatments
  • How to protect yourself and self-isolate
  • Updated Ontario news on the virus

Public Health Ontario is providing up-to-date resources on COVID-19, including:

  • Links to evolving public health guidelines, position statements and situational updates
  • Synopsis of key articles updating on the latest findings related to the virus
  • Recommendations for use of personal protective equipment
  • Information on infection prevention and control
  • Testing information
  • Other public resources

Health Canada outlines the actions being taken by the Government of Canada to limit spread of the virus, as well as what is happening in provinces and communities across the country. It also maintains a live update of the number of cases by province.

The World Health Organization is updating the latest guidance and information related to the global outbreak and spread beyond Canadian borders.

It also provides the most up-to-date information on:

  • Current research and development around the virus
  • A COVID-19 situation “dashboard”
  • Emergency preparedness measures
  • Live media updates on the spread of the virus footnote 9

Key References/Sources

Updated: May 20, 2021
Published: June 11, 2020