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This article was published 6/6/2019 (396 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg Transit has unveiled the first bus in its fleet to be equipped with a driver safety shield, kicking off an effort to retrofit all 630 of its vehicles by March.
The first shield-equipped buses were put into service Thursday, and installation will continue at a pace of 15 per week, Transit manager of operations Randy Tonnellier told reporters.
"With 15 shields being installed per week and approximately 630 shields to be installed, it’s going to take us about 42 weeks to install them, if everything goes according to plan. So we expect to be completed about the middle of March," he said.
Noticeably absent at the morning news conference — which came amid an ongoing contract dispute between the City of Winnipeg and the union representing bus drivers — was Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary.
The union, which last week rejected what the city termed its final contract offer, held a news conference of his own later Thursday.
"For us, it’s a very proud day, and we’re very happy that finally the shields are going to be installed. We’ve been working at it for the last two years. We’ve been after the city and the transit department," Chaudhary said.
"It’s been a success, because at the start management said they would take three to five years to install the shields and we told them it’s not acceptable. We were down to 18 months and then, finally with the help of one of the councillors, it came down to a year."
When asked about ATU's absence from the early event, a union spokesman said it had only received a last-minute invitation after hearing about the gathering from a third party and reaching out to the city.
Since the union wasn’t going to be allowed to speak, it decided to hold its own media availability, the spokesman said.
Driver safety has been an ongoing, growing concern for Winnipeg Transit operators and the union that represents them for several years.
Disputes over safety — and calls for the driver shields — peaked immediately following the February 2017 murder of Irvine Jubal Fraser, 58, who was fatally stabbed outside his bus in a confrontation with a passenger.
In January, just days before Brian Thomas, 24, was convicted of second-degree murder for Fraser’s death, Winnipeg city council voted to approve a $3.15-million plan to install safety shields across Transit’s fleet.
That plan stipulated the work would be done by February 2020 — one month earlier than the now-expected completion date.
Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), chairman of the public works committee, said city hall has been moving quickly on the initiative and is committed to getting the work done as soon as possible.
"The shields are being equipped in a newer-buses-first type of order, the reason being we want to ensure we’re getting the best possible use for the shields and ensuring we’re installing them in a way that makes sense for the life of the shields," he said.
"We’re implementing other safety initiatives… I think one of the messages here today is we’re taking Transit safety very seriously and we are putting significant resources — perhaps unprecedented resources — into Transit safety."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
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Updated on Thursday, June 6, 2019 at 2:46 PM CDT: Writethru.