WINNIPEG – It’s a first step to better protecting Winnipeg’s bus drivers but the head of our local transit union says it doesn’t go far enough.
The city’s infrastructure and public works committee has ordered a “comprehensive” review of safety on Winnipeg transit buses. There will also be a section on new ideas and concepts to improve safety.
The report is not due back for three months and John Callahan, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 says that’s too long.
Callahan has been pushing for immediate actions to improve safety, in the wake of a driver being killed on the job earlier this month. Jubal Fraser, 58, was stabbed to death after a dispute with a passenger at the University of Manitoba.
Callahan says there were two more incidents last weekend where drivers were threatened and they continue to happen daily.
“Another operator was threatened to be stabbed. It’s ongoing. It’s too the point where we don’t want this to happen again. We need to be as proactive as possible.”
Callahan says a key step would be to take fare collection out of the hands of drivers. He’d like to se transit supervisors or even a dedicated transit police force responsible for mediating disputes over fares.
“That’s something that they can do immediately,” says Callahan who claims the majority of assaults on drivers start with a dispute over someone not paying the full fare.
Callahan says a Freedom of Information request in 2015 showed over one million cases of fare underpayment during the first year of the new electronic fare boxes.
Dave Wardrop, Winnipeg’s Chief Transportation Officer, says transit simply doesn’t have the staff to make a significant change like that at this point. He told the committee they are looking at moving more supervisors onto evening shifts to help with disputes.
Fraser was killed around 2 a.m.
Wardrop says bureaucrats will try to have the report done as quickly as possible. He says options like shields for drivers are not being ruled out but would require more study.
Callahan says transit has more employees off on long term leave than any other city department.
That number translates to roughly 1 in 14 employees.