‘Our members are scared’

Transit union concerned about frequent violence on buses


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Transit drivers are said to be afraid to report to work because of the increasing chance they’ll be subjected to violence on the job.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/06/2022 (266 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Transit drivers are said to be afraid to report to work because of the increasing chance they’ll be subjected to violence on the job.

“Our members are scared,” Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 president Romeo Ignacio said.

“They’re always watching over their shoulder, if there’s going to be an assault within their shift and even just walking to their bus stop before or after their shift.”

So far this year, police officers have raced to 167 assault calls on buses.

The number of violent incidents — assault, assault with a weapon or stabbings — has grown steadily since 2019. In that year, officers responded to 191 calls; in 2020 it jumped to 219 incidents and in 2021, there were 252 cases.

Ignacio said the statistics don’t paint the full picture.

“Those are really concerning numbers, but that’s only part of the story. There’s really a serious concern about safety and we’ve been advocating for additional safety measures for our operators,” he said.

“I’m not saying all assaults are the same magnitude as one that requires police assistance — maybe it’s verbal, it may not be as traumatic or as serious as one that has weapons involved or an actual injury, but an assault is an assault.”

He said bus drivers reported three such incidents Wednesday night, though no one was hurt.

Ignacio wants to see a dedicated security force on city buses because “the police are already dealing with a lot of issues outside Winnipeg Transit,” he said.

“We definitely can’t keep doing what we’re doing right now,” he said. “We have to address this before it gets really bad.”

Each week, he said, a driver resigns due to safety concerns.

“How do we get people to take the service if all we’re hearing is an assault every day?” Ignacio said.

Transit spokeswoman Megan Benedictson said the safety and security of passengers, drivers and other employees is a “top priority.”

In response to the frequency of assaults, she said: “We want our passengers and employees to feel safe taking transit and will continue to explore all available options to increase safety, in consultation with the Transit advisory committee.”

The committee was created in 2017. It’s made up of Transit leadership, the drivers union, a citizen safety committee, the Winnipeg Association of Public Service Officers, the city’s Indigenous relations division, police and drivers.

Benedictson pointed to safety initiatives such as driver training, safety shields and video and audio surveillance, as well as the hiring of more inspectors, who wear body armour and are trained to de-escalate confrontations.

Drivers are trained on assault prevention, de-escalation techniques and self defence.

All buses are equipped with an emergency signal to alert Transit’s control centre as well as the public with a flashing sign that alternates: “Emergency, call 911” and “do not board bus,” she noted.

Benedictson said the city has spent $9.6 million on safety plans since 2017 that are either in place or are in the works, while a $17.3-million request to replace bus radio hardware and other technology is pending federal approval.

She said it would be premature to discuss any potential outcomes from the advisory committee’s work on options for a long-term safety and security plan.


Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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