On the transit frontlines handling essential service during COVID-19 – The view for one GO Transit station attendant

Most of us have been largely locked down for more than a month. But others, including station attendant Dana Fisher, have shown up to make sure those who have to travel, get where they’re going. This is her story.

For Dana Fisher, working at Oakville GO Station is nothing like it used to be.

Dana has been a GO station attendant for almost four years. Like many of her peers, she has been on the front line since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and witnessed the virus’ dramatic impact firsthand.

Her work environment has changed considerably at Oakville GO station – traditionally one of the busiest stations on the transit network – as thousands of her normal customers shift from taking the GO, to working from home.

Station Attendant Dana Fisher sitting behind her plexiglass window

These days station Attendant Dana Fisher sits behind the polycarbonate window to help customers (Metrolinx photo)

During her shift, she has gone from serving hundreds of customers to a mere few. Instead of walking around the station to help people with wayfinding or using the ticket vending machines, she’s now restricted to helping everyone from behind her glass booth. Despite these glaring changes, Fisher says she has been able to adjust and still bring positivity to the lives of those who still rely on GO to get to work.

Many customers are used to seeing GO station attendants at their local transit hub, many even know them by name – but how is the pandemic affecting them? Here’s how Fisher describes how her days – and interaction with customers – have changed:

Mx News: What is your routine like these days and how does it compare to the pre-COVID-19 days?

Dana Fisher: My day begins very different now. I drive myself to the station as I would typically do in normal times, but before I leave the car, I now suit up in my mask and gloves. I look around to see what’s happening and who is there, mostly to make sure I know if I will have to distance myself from anyone en route to my post. It is now all about being safe and keeping others safe. I then proceed to the station booth where I perform my daily ritual of cleaning down and sterilizing before I set up.

I now spend a lot of time sanitizing and wiping down areas. We have now turned down the benches to discourage people from sitting or loitering. We need people to keep moving. We are also now doing more announcements to remind people to spread out along the platform and to practice physical distancing.

Mx News: What is your interaction like with your customers?

DF: We don’t have physical or close exchanges with them anymore. Now I see mostly essential workers, people dressed in scrubs on their way to work. It gives people reassurance when they see us. Many of them are happy to see me, a familiar face. People want to be reassured in a time of uncertainty and I believe when they see us, we provide a source of steadiness and familiarity and people need that right now.

It is funny, but at this time, I find it is easier and even more important to connect with people. We don’t have the numbers, but we have the connection. It is about positivity and being here to provide a service that allows other more crucial frontline workers to get to their jobs.

GO station attendant Dana Fisher sitting at her computer

Dana Fisher has been a station attendant at Oakville GO Station for more than four years. (Metrolinx photo)

Mx News: How do you view everything that is unfolding from your position on the frontline?

DF: For sure there is heightened awareness for all of us who must be out here. I am more conscious of everything and everyone. It is also important that in the midst of this, people feel that there is safety and security.

I feel gratitude to be here. I am happy to be able to move my positive energy forward by helping to reassure people that we (Metrolinx/GO) are here.

We are experiencing devastation, it is an uprooting experience, but I am happy to be able to help in these difficult times. People feel stranded and alone, it helps to be able to give encouragement while they are on their journey.  The gift of positivity is what I think is important in this uncertainty. I try to keep my exchange as positive as possible. In my mind, it brings value to my day.

Mx News: Have you ever worked through a crisis situation before now?

DF: No, I remember SARS, but I don’t recall it being this elevated. I did see the Mississauga derailment in 1979. I was living in the Mississauga Valley area and many of us had to be evacuated. My family was separated; some of us had to stay with other family members and friends. This went on for weeks because there were suspected gas leaks. Beyond that, I have never seen anything like this.

Mx News: What kind of safety precautions do you take when you get back to your home?

DF: I actually de-robe in the garage. I then enter the house through a side door and immediately take a shower before I interact with anyone at home. I look for my change of clothes overnight and place them in the same position so no one has to fetch me anything.

Also, one of the things we do is make sure no one else has to leave the house. While I am out, I do the groceries and any other necessary errands.

GO station attendant Dana Fisher standing in Oakville GO Station

GO station attendant Dana Fisher says she is doing her best to help customers and bring positivity to the world during a tough time (Metrolinx photo)

Mx News: What do you tell your family each day when you have to report for duty in the midst of this crisis?

DF: My family is very concerned. They worry, but I reassure them that I am taking all the necessary precautions to keep safe. They respect what I have to do and we talk about it. Talking helps with our well-being and supports better understanding.

Our supervisors are very supportive and the work shifts are structured such that there is limited to no overlap with relieving team members.  They also stagger the days, so there are some days when I don’t go out and get to stay inside at home with my family. On the days that I am home, we exercise and play games. We’ve also had a few online parties with our relatives and friends too.

When I go to work, I keep in touch with my family. This is very important so they know I am ok. I call when I get to work and I call when I am on my way home.

Mx News: What do you tell yourself when you are preparing to go out?

DF: It is a privilege for me to help others, and I am happy to do so. I am fortunate to be healthy. We are all in this together. In my opinion, it is an honour to have a service to provide to others in these trying times. It is an honour to be able to keep people moving. These people are probably going to a job that is far more important than mine and I am glad that I am able to serve them. I am playing an important role in an even more important picture when you look at the people who are traveling now and the jobs that they must do.

Story by: Tanika Baker, Metrolinx communications coordinator