Operators report a wide range of abuse on the job
Nearly 200 TTC bus, streetcar and subway operators are suffering from severe stress usually associated with survivors of combat, natural disasters and rape.
Their rate of post-traumatic stress disorder is about four times that of police officers who patrol Toronto streets, and the city’s transit drivers report these problems more than any other workers in Ontario, according to provincial data.
Drivers have suffered a wide range of abuse — shot at with an air rifle, punched in the eye, head-butted in the mouth, gashed with a broken beer bottle, to list just a few examples the Toronto Star uncovered.
Shawn Gilchrist, psychologically crippled by the disorder, missed nearly two years of work after four riders swarmed and dragged him to the bus floor, kicked, punched and dislodged a molar.
Another driver, Michael, said he was driving along Kipling Avenue in 2005 when the headlights of an oncoming Jetta went out. The sedan crept closer, its passenger window going down. Seconds later, the window next to Michael’s head had a hole in it and a spider web of cracks.
He later learned he was shot at with an air rifle and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.
"I couldn’t sleep. I kept being paranoid. I didn’t want to drive."
In a five-year period ending in 2005, at least 181 drivers claimed post-traumatic stress disorder, missing an average of 44 days of work, with some absent only days and others more than a year. The traumatized drivers missed a total of nearly 9,000 work days. An additional 102 operators reported missing weeks or months of work because they were suffering anxiety, neurotic disorders and depression.
Described, often dismissively, as shell shock in World War I, and neurosis in World War II, and captured in Vietnam War-era photos as the "thousand-yard stare," post-traumatic stress disorder is now recognized not as a moral weakness but as a legitimate, sometimes devastating disorder.