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City council divided on approach to safety on Winnipeg buses

Driver murdered on university campus in February


(Canadian OH&S News) — Three months after the murder of Winnipeg bus driver Irvine Fraser by a rider, six members of the city council are expressing dismay at how the municipality has responded — particularly in the lack of input from the transit union.

The councillors — Jeff Browaty, Janice Lukes, Ross Eadie, Shawn Dobson, Jason Schreyer and Russ Wyatt — issued a collective press release on May 9, saying they were “shocked” to learn that the Winnipeg Public Service had not consulted with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1505 on ways to improve passenger and employee safety. A City report on Winnipeg Transit (WT) safety practices is due before the end of May.

“Bus drivers have firsthand knowledge of issues and invaluable perspectives on how to improve safety… Why is the Public Service not reaching out to ATU, like they said they would?” Browaty said in a media statement. “How can any report that comes forward be meaningful, if the bus drivers aren’t even consulted?”

He also accused Mayor Brian Bowman of “not approaching this report with the seriousness it deserves” as assaults against bus drivers continue.

Following Fraser’s death on Feb. 14, councillor Marty Morantz tabled a motion to initiate a review of WT safety procedures (COHSN, Feb. 28). Since then, the six councillors have independently consulted with Local 1505 and offered a list of recommendations based on the members’ suggestions:

— a formal transit security force that enacts a “Safety First” policy and culture;
— a zero-tolerance policy for fare evaders and assaults;
— relieving drivers from the responsibility of enforcing fare collection;
— establishment of a Transit Community Advisory Board;
— a public awareness campaign on transit safety; and
— revision of the Director of Transit’s job description with more focus on new safety protocols.

“End of the day, I think everybody kind of has the same goal,” Local 1505 president John Callahan told COHSN. “There are a lot of areas of concern; it’s not just one thing.”

Callahan agreed with the six councillors that a transit security force and advisory committee were needed, “because right now, we don’t have anything,” he said. “There’s no means of taking the temperature of the ridership, whether they like the service or not. There’s no real way of reporting that. There’s no way of dealing with issues that arise.”

He added that the current practice of drivers being responsible for fare evaders is a major issue. “That’s the number-one reason for assaults, is fare disputes,” he explained. “It’s enough of a job just operating the bus safely, and never mind having to collect fares and make judgement calls all the time. Leave that to fare inspectors, such as other cities have done.” Some cities use proof-of-purchase systems that relieve transit operators of the duty to enforce payment, Callahan said.

The union recently conducted a survey of its bus operators, and around three-quarters of respondents were in favour of installing shields or barriers on buses to protect drivers. Another area of concern is unrealistic scheduling, Callahan noted: “It’s almost impossible for the operators to keep on schedule. So as a result of that, when the bus is late, people are upset, and again, it causes conflict.”

Local 1505 and the six councillors hired a transit consultant from outside of Winnipeg to advise concerned parties on safety, said Callahan. The consultant met with Bowman and the council on May 11 and led a workshop for drivers on the following day.

The six councillors plan to table a notice of motion highlighting their recommendations on transit safety at the May 24 council meeting.

“Ensuring passenger and bus-driver safety must be a top priority for our City,” said Lukes in a statement.