Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Transit driver faces assault charges

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A Winnipeg Transit driver is facing an assault charge following an incident Saturday morning, police said Monday.

The 53-year-old driver was arrested Saturday afternoon after a woman complained she had been pushed and beaten earlier that morning by the driver of a transit bus on University Crescent, police said.

Police said the woman boarded the bus at about 7:35 a.m. and was cautioned by the driver for putting her feet up on a seat and for falling asleep.

The driver asked the 23-year-old woman to get off the bus and when she refused it's alleged he threw her belongings out the rear door. The woman retrieved her bag and re-entered the bus, which, police said, led to a physical altercation when it is alleged the driver tried to remove her from the bus.

The woman demanded the driver call police, but he refused. When the bus stopped about 7:50 a.m., the woman left the bus and notified police.

Police said the suspect was arrested at 12:40 p.m. and released on a promise to appear in court.

It's not known if the driver remains on duty. A City of Winnipeg spokeswoman said Winnipeg Transit would not comment as it is a personnel matter.

Violence on city buses has been a political issue lately, although the violence usually involves the drivers as victims rather than alleged attackers.

Winnipeg has seen a steady increase in serious assaults against bus drivers in recent years. City data show there have been 409 reported assaults against Winnipeg Transit drivers between 2000 and 2012.

Currently, transit drivers call in transit inspectors to respond to assaults. The inspectors are trained to calm any disputes, but do not carry weapons or handcuffs and do not have the authority to restrain assailants until police arrive.

Council's public works committee recently voted to explore the idea of granting more power to 13 inspectors.

That's on top of new recommendations to expand on-board surveillance cameras to better capture assaults against bus drivers.

Critics say Winnipeg should follow the lead of other Canadian cities and introduce a more robust strategy, including creating a transit police force with officers trained and equipped to respond to violence against transit operators.

It's a phenomenon that's occurred across the country and prompted the Canadian Urban Transit Association to lobby the federal government to introduce minimum sentences for assaulting a transit worker. The notion is that transit workers are responsible for many lives and their safety should be better protected by law.

Winnipeg Transit's proposed strategy -- to expand surveillance and display warnings notifying passengers buses are equipped with audio and video surveillance and they could be prosecuted for assault -- is within the department's current operating budget.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2012 A4

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