Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City ponders more constables on buses

Report urges move amid ongoing frequent driver assaults

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Assaults on transit drivers are a  problem in cities across Canada.

JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Assaults on transit drivers are a problem in cities across Canada. Photo Store

Faced with dozens of Winnipeg Transit drivers assaulted every year, Transit Tom is hoping hiring six special constables will make riding buses safer both for drivers and the public.

A report, going to next week's civic infrastructure renewal and public works committee, is asking councillors to approve a new transit bylaw and look at hiring six more foot patrol/route inspectors with special-constable status to enforce it.

The new inspectors would come at a cost of $233,800 for half a year in 2014, and more than $531,000 annually in 2015, with two per cent increases in future years. Half the cost would be paid by the provincial government.

The report says that, along with Transit's three existing foot patrol/route inspectors, a total of nine special constables would be looking for trouble on buses. The report adds this is fewer than the comparable 18 officers other cities of similar size have, but the city wants to gauge the effectiveness of them first.

There were 400 assaults reported against bus drivers from 2000 to 2012, with 52 occurring last year and 63 the year before.

Jim Girden, president of Local 1505 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents 900 bus drivers in Winnipeg, pointed out drivers are still being assaulted while doing their job.

"Citizens who utilize the service and those who provide those services are expecting the city to address and provide some type of a solution," Girden said on Friday.

"As for the report, we find it is a good start to the issues that are listed in their conclusion section but we believe that the city needs to do something to help the riding public and the operators."

It's also a problem across the country.

Earlier this week, two opposition MPs put forward private member's bills to help protect bus drivers.

NDP MP John Rafferty's bill would see the Criminal Code amended to give judges the ability to raise a charge to aggravated assault from assault when drivers of buses, subway trains or other forms of public transportation are attacked.

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale's bill would also amend the Criminal Code to make it an aggravating factor during sentencing that the victims were transit operators.

The city says the constables would be able to enforce the bylaw, which includes regulations for vandalism, panhandling, fare evasion and loitering.

But the constables, who would also be route inspectors, would also have the power to fine people for fare evasion and ban repeat offenders from using transit.

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) has been spearheading the issue since shortly after being elected in 2011.

"What works is getting more pressure out there," Mayes said.

"We have an idea which routes to cover and they are also in the evening hours. Look, 20 per cent of the city uses the transit system. We should be recognizing that.

"It's not just the drivers who will be safer, but the passengers."

Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop said there would be benefits if the constables were hired.

"What our experience (is) just in expanding the visibility and presence really has a direct impact on the behaviour of the public," Wardrop said.

"These are transit inspectors and they would have the ability to enforce conduct within transit facilities and along transit infrastructure. But they would also provide operational support."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 B1

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