New Transit union head to push for more safety measures


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The new head of the Winnipeg Transit union wants city hall to crack down on fare evasion and give drivers more time to complete their routes, in the wake of a record-breaking year of assaults against operators.

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The new head of the Winnipeg Transit union wants city hall to crack down on fare evasion and give drivers more time to complete their routes, in the wake of a record-breaking year of assaults against operators.

Chris Scott said such actions, which require greater investment in public transportation, are necessary to make busing safer for everyone and increase ridership in return.

Monday marked the first day of Scott’s three-year term as president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.

The freshly minted leader will oversee upcoming bargaining talks, given the union’s collective agreement with the city is slated to expire in under a week.

“Safety has really become the biggest issue. I never thought when I started that there would be a requirement for shields or the discussion of a security force or police (patrolling buses), but… these are now serious discussions that have to be had,” said the senior employee, who was hired to drive for Winnipeg Transit in 1999, and most recently worked on Route 677.

Conflicts often arise because of fare dodging and tardy schedules, Scott said.

The amount of time allotted for drivers to get from Point A to B has shrunk to find cost savings over the last decade, he said, noting employees are increasingly stressed because they have to drive faster despite varying weather conditions and passenger loads.

“The public is increasingly getting fed up with their bus always being late. There needs to be an investment into the transit service, not cuts to it,” he added.

Concern about the safety of drivers and commuters, owing to a number of high-profile incidents, has frequently made headlines in recent years.

It has been nearly six years since Irvine Jubal Fraser was killed when a passenger became aggressive and repeatedly stabbed him in response to the operator announcing his route was finished.

Not long after the 2017 death, the city started installing safety shields that are now universal across Winnipeg Transit.

While the union, which represents about 1,400 drivers, maintenance workers and support staff, welcomes the new infrastructure, executives continue to warn about violence against their members.

The shields provide comfort in that they protect drivers from being “sucker-punched from behind,” but riders can still reach around them, Scott said, citing a 2021 event during which a hostile passenger grabbed a steering wheel.

Former union president Romeo Ignacio was vocal about his support for safety shield extensions, an agenda item that Scott indicated he intends to continue pursuing.

The new president won the union’s Dec. 9 leadership race with 457 votes.

Ignacio, who could not be reached for comment Monday, lost his bid for re-election with a tally of 293 votes. Khosrov Kharazi, who works in dispatch services, came in third place with 244.

Scott described his leadership approach as more pushy than his predecessor because he indicated new tactics are needed to make headway on issues related to security and workplace satisfaction.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?” he said, adding “there’s a point when you have to go beyond co-operation in order to become productive.”

Union and city leaders have yet to cement a time to begin working on an updated agreement.

“The city is looking forward to setting dates with the ATU to negotiate early in the new year and is committed to negotiating in a fair and reasonable manner,” communications manager David Driedger wrote in a statement Monday.

The regular cash fare for an adult bus ride increased by five cents in 2023 to $3.15 per trip. The updated youth and senior fare is $2.65.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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