Kitchener-Waterloo

GRT bus drivers to get shields under new pilot project

Operators 'led to believe that being verbally assaulted or spit on is part of the job'

Bus Shield

A Mississauga transit driver shows a barrier used to protect bus drivers from being assaulted by passengers. Some new GRT buses expected this fall will have the dividers installed. (CBC News)

 shares

Some Grand River Transit bus drivers will work behind shields starting early next year as part of a new pilot project.

The shields were part of the contract negotiations between Unifor, the union which represents bus operators and maintenance staff, and the Region of Waterloo.

Local 4304 president Rick Lonergan said safety is a top concern for bus operators.

"The members really wanted this," Lonergan told CBC News.

"We feel it's better to be proactive and not to be reactive of that event. Fortunately, we live in a mostly safe, secure community," he said.

Lonergan said drivers are concerned after a rise in physical abuse in other cities, including a Winnipeg bus driver who was stabbed to death in February.

Arow Global bus shield protection system

This "slider" system isn't fixed in place and allows drivers to move the position of the glass around based on their preference. The glass can be quickly slid across and closed in the event of an emergency, according to the manufacturer. (Arow Global)

Operators 'very excited'

Physical assaults on GRT buses are rare, Lonergan said, but there are other confrontations.

"I think that they've been led to believe that being verbally assaulted or spit on is part of the job," Lonergan said, adding he hears about those kinds of attacks more and more.

"I hear about them, other people hear about them," he said, adding some drivers have raised concerns because they don't know if a passenger is carrying a concealed weapon such as a knife.

"The biggest part of this bargaining, I believe, had to do with health and safety and when [the bus operators] saw they were going to get some help, perhaps with protection from shields, they got very excited about that."

Eight buses will get four different types of shields for the pilot project. The shields will be installed on new buses, which are expected to arrive in the region in November and to go into service in January.

The region and Unifor ratified a new contract on Monday. The new contract also gives employees a 5.25 per cent raise over three years and improved working conditions.

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