Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The life of a transit bus driver is no ride in the park

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WINNIPEG Transit drivers routinely get sworn at, screamed at and spit on. And that’s on a good day.

According to a freedom of information request, Winnipeg Transit drivers have reported 10 instances of verbal and physical assaults since 2009 as reported by the Critical Incident Stress Management team.

What’s all Winnipeg Transit would say. Despite a renewed focus on driver safety, Winnipeg Transit refused to reveal any details about the incidents, saying due to a confidentiality agreement with the drivers "all meaningful information had to be severed from the record, which made the remaining information meaningless."

But spend an afternoon riding city buses, and transit drivers themselves tell no shortage of hair-raising stories. In wide-ranging interviews with 10 drivers who spoke on condition of anonymity, they described near daily harassment.

One driver told of a passenger who made a gun gesture with his fingers before revealing an actual gun in his jacket.

"He threatened to take me out," said the driver. "I did press charges and it is currently in the courts now."

A female driver said she was verbally assaulted just recently on the job.

"An older man walked up to my bus and started screaming at me, asking me to find schedule information for him," she said.

When she said she didn’t have the time, he called her "a butchy bitch."

"You need to have real thick skin to do this job," she added.

Another driver said he gets sworn at all the time just for following the bus route.

"This mother gets on the bus with a child in a stroller and another kid.

She asked if I was turning right on Arlington Street. I said no," he recalled. "She started yelling, ‘F— a—, I phoned 311 and they told me your f— bus was turning at Arlington.’ I told her again that I was going straight.

She called me a f— a— again and told me, ‘You don’t know what the f— you’re doing.’ " Said yet another driver: "I’ll never forget some of the things people say or do to me. Stuff like that really sticks with you."

Stan Dera, the Canadian director of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said five drivers are physically assaulted every day in Canada.

A media release from Winnipeg Transit said there were 70 physical assaults on drivers in 2009 alone and about 40 per cent of those involved a passenger spitting or throwing an object at the driver. The city has been testing plastic shields to protect drivers.

Winnipeg Transit Client Services said if a driver is assaulted and reports the incident, as he or she should, a police investigation will follow.

Despite several requests to speak to drivers, Winnipeg Transit referred all calls to the city’s media inquiries office. A spokeswoman said the "safety and security of employees and customers is a top priority."

"Winnipeg Transit is always looking at new ways of improving safety and security for our employees and customers," said the spokeswoman.

ashleyk.wiebe@gmail.com azaslov@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2011 A6

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