Transit union leaders, bus drivers and their family members gathered outside city hall Friday morning, demanding increased safety measures following Tuesday’s stabbing death of an on-duty bus driver.
They called for enhancements such as shields for drivers, an emergency left-side exit, more security personnel on buses and a system to take fare collection out of the hands of drivers.
Several speakers said the death of 58-year-old Irvine Jubal Fraser must be the impetus for change for overall driver and passenger safety.
"We’ve been talking about this for the past three years, time and time again, assault after assault. What have we gotten? Lip service," said Local Amalgamated Transit Union president John Callahan, above shouts of "(we got) Nothing!"
"It’s time for change. This isn’t just about bus operators. This is about public safety."
ATU national president Paul Thorp told the crowd of about 200 people that Fraser’s death "should never have happened" and the ATU’s "logical next step is to demand structural changes to these buses and we need the support of our employers and the manufacturers."
"Bus operators lie in wait for these heinous attacks out in the open," Thorp said, adding that five transit workers are assaulted every day across Canada, and that’s only the assaults that are reported.
"Let us not have brother Fraser’s murder be in vain. Let’s ensure the safety of our transit employees across Canada and the United States. Implement these changes to stop these heinous attacks on our brothers and sisters. Stand up and demand that our court system uphold the laws that were put in place to protect us.
"It’s time our employers step up and have our backs."
James van Gerwen, a 13-year bus driver who said Fraser was his friend, said at the rally that he has been assaulted while working, and being assaulted on the job is common for bus operators.
"The system requires changes to ensure the safety of bus drivers as well as the hundreds of thousands of people we carry each day. Let’s let them know that one life is too many," said Van Gerwen, who said his wife is also a bus driver.
He called on Mayor Brian Bowman and Dave Wardrop, the city’s chief transportation and utilities officer, "to fulfil their commitments" to make the job safer.
Callahan said there were 45 assaults on bus drivers in 2016 and 62 in 2015. He didn’t have numbers yet for assaults so far this year.
"It just has to stop. We’ve been asking for more protection for years," said Penny Teron, a bus driver for eight years who attended the rally.
Callahan said buses could be retrofitted with a shield for drivers. This could help as long as it is retractable and could be used at the driver’s discretion.
"It can protect the driver but also, drivers like to interact with the public. If they need it, they could use the shield," Callahan said, noting that drivers could still be hurt by people throwing dangerous items or hot fluids over the top of the shields.
He said other means to protect bus drivers would include changes to scheduling and fare collection — because late buses and fare disputes spark many rider-driver confrontations — more city police officers riding buses or dedicated transit police on buses.
Right now, other than calling 911, a bus driver who feels threatened can push an emergency button, but must wait for a transit supervisor to be dispatched to the location.
"That takes time, and it’s time they (drivers) may not have," Callahan said. "When a situation happens, you need someone on the spot."
Other speakers at the rally included Elmwood-Transcona NDP MP Daniel Blaikie and former Green Party of Manitoba candidate Don Woodstock, a bus operator who said he still suffers from the effects of an on-the-job injury from four years ago.
Fraser’s brother, identified only as Dean, was presented with the care and control of a Gofundme account for the slain driver’s family, set up by fellow operator Robert Precourt. Donations had reached $29,000 Friday. A second Gofundme account, which has a message on it saying it was set up for students and staff to donate to Fraser’s funeral expenses, has raised more than $5,600.
"On behalf of my brother Jubal, his life was to be a bus driver. That’s what he wanted. He was taken from us doing what he loved," Dean said, his voice choked with emotion. "We want to thank all of you guys for being here and we appreciate the love and support."
Fraser died early Tuesday while alone with the last passenger on his bus, who refused to get off at the end of the line. A struggle erupted and the passenger, a 22-year old man, allegedly pulled out a knife and stabbed Fraser.
Brian Kyle Thomas is charged with second-degree murder.