Winnipeg will investigate how it can improve safety on transit buses after the number of assaults against bus drivers has tripled in recent years.
Council's public works committee asked Winnipeg's public administration Thursday to develop a strategy to keep transit staff and bus passengers safe. Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) brought the motion forward in light of concerns that the number of assaults against bus drivers is on the rise.
City data show 63 assaults against bus drivers were reported last year, up from 56 in 2010 and more than double the number reported in 2006. Between January and March 2012, bus drivers have reported 23 assaults to Winnipeg Transit, which would be on pace to surpass 2011's total.
Mayes said Winnipeg must address this problem to ensure drivers are safe and not discourage people from taking the bus.
Winnipeg Labour Council president David Sauer said most major cities across the country deal with a similar problem. He said statistics show about five bus drivers are assaulted every day in Canada. Winnipeg bus drivers have reportedly been punched in the chest, verbally threatened, kicked and had their eyeglasses broken.
Many of the assaults start after a passenger has refused to pay a fare, Sauer said. He said these assaults cost the city more in health and workers' compensation costs, and Winnipeg needs to be more proactive to prevent them.
"It's becoming a huge problem," Sauer said. "It's really quite ridiculous what's happening to transit operators out there."
Jim Girden, president of Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505, said many assaults against bus drivers go unreported, and some drivers have stopped confronting passengers who refuse to pay bus fare in an attempt to avoid a conflict. He said some assaults against bus drivers have been serious, and several city drivers are off work with head injuries or on long-term disability. Some have been confronted with weapons, he said.
Girden declined to speak publicly about the nature of the serious assaults, as he said it might encourage copycat attacks.
There are more than 12 special constables who monitor and respond to transit-related incidents in the city. Girden said Winnipeg likely needs to hire more security to respond and prevent these assaults, noting Edmonton hired more than 30 constables to help patrol buses following an attack on a driver that left him blind in one eye.
"We want to provide a safe ride out there for everybody," Girden said, noting bus assaults are becoming a problem city-wide. "The problem is when we call for assistance, it's not readily available."
Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) spoke in support of a safety strategy and said he's encountered people drinking beer on buses and intimidating passengers. He said the problem is not isolated to North End buses, and Winnipeg needs to have somebody on the bus who is equipped to deal with incidents.
"It is very intimidating and it really turns people off from taking the bus," Eadie said.
Public works chairman Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said it's unfortunate the number of assaults has risen steadily in the last six years, and it's an issue the city has to take seriously.
Council's public works committee asked the city administration to develop a safety strategy and report back within 120 days.
The number of assaults on Winnipeg Transit operators has increased over the years. Here's a breakdown of the number of reported assaults by year.
January to March 2012:23
— source: Winnipeg Transit bus operator assault information