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Union, city discuss improved transit safety following knife attack on bus driver

Sudbury bus operator hospitalized on May 28


(Canadian OH&S News) — Security for bus operators in Sudbury, Ont. needs upgrades, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) chapter representing transit workers in the city. The union has been meeting with the City and others regarding safety improvements, in the wake of a violent incident that took place on May 28.

According to a media release from the Greater Sudbury Police Service, a 34-year-old man jumped out of a moving taxi, ran down the street and boarded a Greater Sudbury Transit (GST) bus at about 11:50 p.m. that evening. The man then stabbed the bus driver in the forearm and neck with a knife, police said. Officers arrived during the scuffle and arrested the man.

The driver was sent to the hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, police said. The assailant was charged with aggravated assault, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, resisting a peace officer and possession of a Schedule II substance, as well as four counts of failing to comply with a probation order.

“Any incident like this, where there’s a potential for somebody to be seriously injured or killed, is one too many,” said Darryl Taylor, the president of CUPE Local 4705.

He commended the defensive actions of the driver who was assaulted. “There were passengers on the bus, he was attacked with an edged weapon, and nobody on the bus was injured,” said Taylor. “So I would actually call him heroic.”

In an e-mailed reply to COHSN on behalf of GST director Michelle Ferrigan, the City of Sudbury said that it was “distressed” by the May 28 attack, which it called “unprovoked” and “unprecedented.”

The statement added that assaults against Sudbury bus drivers are relatively rare. There was only one physical assault against a GST bus operator this year prior to the May 28 incident, according to the City. One physical assault against a bus operator was recorded in 2016, and there were none in 2015.

A Transit Safety Task Force — including members of the police, Local 4705, GST management, councillors and other stakeholders — has been meeting regularly since 2013. The group usually meets four times a year to review safety issues and hazards, but it is in the process of planning a special meeting during the second week of June, as a response to the May 28 incident.

“Everything is on the table right now. We’re reviewing everything from panic alarms, increased staff security, to physical barriers onboard the buses,” said Taylor.

To date, the Task Force has succeeded in introducing surveillance cameras, silent panic alarms, GPS technology, crisis-intervention training and other measures into the system. “Policies have been developed for fare disputes, the number-one reason for assaults on board Greater Sudbury Transit,” said the City. “Operators are advised that it is better to lose a fare and to report it from a safe vantage point than to place personal safety at risk.”

Barriers between drivers and riders have been considered in the past, but the majority of bus operators objected to them because of claustrophobic feelings and reduced interaction with passengers.

“There were always mixed reviews on the barriers, and this incident once again has brought the barrier issue to the forefront,” said Taylor. “There are some that would like it, some that would not, for various reasons.” But the Task Force plans to discuss whether a barrier would have prevented the recent attack and could prevent others in the future. “If that’s the case, then I’m sure we’ll be implementing it.”

Taylor also noted that the expanded geography of the Sudbury bus system adds to safety risks. “We have a lot of late-night routes that do travel through rural areas,” he explained, “and the nearest help could be ten to 15 to 20 minutes away. And that is a concern.”

“The safety of our bus operators and the safety of our passengers is our number-one priority,” said the City.