Rally sounds alarm on bus safety issues


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Winnipeg Transit drivers, passengers and labour leaders rallied in the city hall courtyard Thursday afternoon, demanding safer conditions on public transit.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/08/2022 (236 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Transit drivers, passengers and labour leaders rallied in the city hall courtyard Thursday afternoon, demanding safer conditions on public transit.

In the wake of recent notable violent incidents on city buses, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 called on the City of Winnipeg to implement three changes: ramping up onboard security, upgrading dated radio systems, and extending driver shields.

The number of reported assaults on buses has been growing over the past few years, according to city police data. In 2019, police responded to 191 such calls; in 2020, it was 219; in 2021, the number jumped to 252. As of June 2022, police had responded to 167 incidents on Transit buses.

On July 24, a Transit driver was forced to climb out a side window, after a passenger attempted to stab him by reaching around the protective shield.

During a speech to those assembled Thursday, ATU 1505 vice-president James Ven Gerwen commended a passenger who helped the driver flee.

“I would like to give a special thanks to that passenger, who came to the aid of my driver,” Van Gerwen said. “In a dire incident, she had the concern of my driver and helped him climb out that window.”

The ATU 1505 wants the City of Winnipeg to invest in extended driver shields that provide better coverage and security. The existing devices were installed in 2019-20, after a Transit driver was stabbed to death by a passenger outside his bus in 2017.

In a phone interview Wednesday with the Free Press, ATU 1505 president Romeo Ignacio said the city must act and enhance safety on buses before something catastrophic happens.

“I don’t want to be coming to a meeting or a news conference where we would be talking about losing somebody, losing a life,” Ignacio said. “Enough is enough.”

Ignacio said the radio system Transit drivers use to communicate with supervisors, other drivers and emergency services is 40 years old. While some buses have been equipped with the ability to stream video, the vast majority (590 out of 640) are not, Ignacio said.

“If you get an officer who is incapacitated, no one is going to make that call,” Ignacio said. “Technology isn’t as reliable as we want it to be.”

A tri-level government agreement announced last month has pledged millions of dollars to replace and upgrade the existing communications equipment.

Community activist Evan Krosney has taken transit all his life. A few weeks ago, he said, he was assaulted on a bus. At the rally, Krosney emphasized increasing ridership will rest on the city’s determination to make buses safer and more reliable.

“Nobody should have to go to work feeling unsafe,” Krosney said. “Today, let’s all together call on our city council to make our buses safer, to make them more accessible, (and) to make them more frequent.”

With the municipal election in October, Krosney urged all candidates to commit to such improvements.

Dave Shaber came across the rally on his walk home. Along with increased safety measures on buses, Shaber said the city needs to make public transit financially accessible for low-income Winnipeggers.

“Our city deserves better,” he said.

While the ATU 1505 has advocated for safety measures for decades, Van Gerwen said a recent uptick in violent incidents demands action be taken now.

“We’re not asking city council to think outside of the box. We’re just asking them to open up that box that’s sitting right in front of them.”


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