WINNIPEG – Winnipeg Transit is proposing a pilot project to test safety barriers for bus drivers following the killing of one of its employees.
Driver Irvine Jubal Fraser was stabbed multiple times in February when he tried to remove a sleeping passenger from the bus. It had reached the end of the line late at night and Fraser was about to go off shift.
A city council committee is to consider the recommendation along with other ideas to improve safety, including some form of transit police and encouraging passengers to report bad behaviour on buses.
John Callahan, head of the union local that represents 1,120 Winnipeg bus drivers, called the recommendations a good start Friday.
He said Fraser’s violent death three months ago is still on their minds.
“There is not a day that has gone by where it hasn’t been a hot topic,” said Callahan, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.
“This is long overdue. We aren’t done yet.”
Winnipeg Transit said the recommendations are based on talks it held with its employees, the union and city police.
Discussions to find other ways to bolster safety are expected to continue with a proposed transit advisory committee.
Greg Ewankiw, a Winnipeg Transit spokesman, said the city provides about 170,000 passenger rides a day, or about 48 million a year.
“I think our transit system is safe, but things do happen on transit systems throughout Canada,” he said.
The pilot project will see drivers test three kinds of safety barriers on six buses.
If the pilot is successful and union members support the idea, a proposal to install barriers on the bus fleet would go to city council.
Callahan said he is disappointed the city is not proposing bus fare collection in which drivers would not be required to ensure that passengers paid.
The union will keep pushing for the change, he said.
“That is key,” he said. “Most of the altercations and assaults are the result of fare disputes.”
A freedom-of-information request in 2015 showed more than one million cases of underpayment during the first year of new electronic fare boxes in Winnipeg.
Callahan said safety barriers could work if they are well designed and don’t leave drivers too cramped, and most union members support the idea.
Right now, all buses are equipped with cameras and there is a proposal to install more.
Callahan said cameras are OK for reviewing fights, but the emphasis should be on taking steps to prevent assaults.
Brian Kyle Thomas was charged in February with second-degree murder in Fraser’s death.
Callahan said at the time that there had been 60 assaults on Winnipeg transit drivers in 2015. The number went down to 45 assaults in 2016, partly due to undercover officers who intervened in some disputes.
In March, passengers on a Winnipeg bus disarmed a man who had an axe and brass knuckles. Police said passengers took the weapons away from him without incident before they and the driver escorted him off the bus.
The man was charged with possession of a weapon and breaching a recognizance.
— By John Cotter in Edmonton