A Winnipeg city councillor wants plain-clothes police officers on buses to enforce fare collection.
Coun. Matt Allard put forward a motion on Monday that would eventually see undercover police officers posted on Winnipeg Transit buses.
Under current bylaws, not paying a fare can result in a $100 fine, Allard explained.
"My understanding is that currently there is very little of that fine being issued," Allard said. "It's tough to say exactly how much money is being lost from underpayments on fares, but we do know a substantial amount of money is not going toward our transit office."
Allard estimated the amount of lost fares runs into the millions and said other cities face similar problems.
Allard thinks those officers should be in plain clothes. He said the possibility of an unexpected fine would deter people from not paying their fares.
"The most affordable is having the public understand there are plain-clothes police officers. They don't know where they're being deployed or when. So there's an understanding that at any time you can pay this $100 fine if you don't pay your fares," said Allard.
He added the officers would also be able to assist in preventing driver or passenger assaults.
'1 of our members was pummeled for 6 minutes'
The city's transit union supported the motion, which was presented to city hall's protection and community services committee.
John Callahan, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, said Winnipeg drivers are subjected to violence too often.
"One is too many. These are just people doing their job. They're not police officers. They don't have Kevlar vests. They don't have batons or Tasers," he said.
Reported assaults against drivers have declined in recent years; in 2009, there were 70 reported cases of assaults against drivers, and in 2014, there were 39.
But so far this year, there have already been 45, and there are still several months to go.
"We had an incident on the long weekend. One of our members was pummeled for six minutes – bitten, scratched, had his hair pulled. We watched the video. It went on for six minutes," he said. "Who should have to put up with that to do their job? They're bus operators. They're not bouncers."
Callahan said the number of reported assaults is going down because reporting is going down, and operators aren't demanding people pay fares and risk getting hurt.
He said the majority of altercations start when a driver requests someone pay the posted fare. Now, he said, drivers aren't risking arguing with people who refuse.
"We've had assaults happen while the bus is moving. Last year, we had a driver punched in the face," he said. "If that driver had been knocked unconscious, which he was very close to being, you've got a bus going down the road with no one behind the wheel and 25 passengers there. It's not only about our members. It's about public safety."
As for installing undercover officers, Callahan said jurisdictions in the U.S. do it, and it could work here.
"They're going to catch them in the act or catch them before it happens. They're on the buses," he said. "We don't want after-the-fact. We want prevention."
Coun. Brian Mayes has been fighting to make Winnipeg Transit buses safer since 2011.
In 2013, his efforts got a boost when the city's Enhancing Public Safety on Transit report recommended putting six "special constables" on routes plagued by violence against drivers and passengers. Council later approved those plans.
Monday's motion has been referred to the Winnipeg Police Board to be reviewed at a later date.