A Winnipeg teenager says she was assaulted by a 51-year-old female Winnipeg Transit driver on Wednesday after she asked for a bus transfer too late after boarding a bus.
Winnipeg police arrested the driver Thursday. The woman, whom police did not identify, faces charges of assault and public mischief.
Caley Fawcett, 17, planned to take the route 12 bus to Polo Park Wednesday morning. She got on about 10:30 a.m. at Shaughnessy Street with her nine-month-old son and a male cousin.
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Fawcett said her son started crying right after she boarded, so she sat down to console him.
"I totally forgot to get a transfer," she said.
Fawcett later explained her situation to the bus driver, but the driver refused to give the teen a transfer, saying too much time had passed and it was against transit policy.
"Any other bus driver would've given me a transfer," said Fawcett, who said she then swore at the driver.
The bus driver accused Fawcett of verbal assault, said Fawcett. Tempers escalated from there.
"I called her racist," said Fawcett, who is Filipino and describes the driver as white.
Soon after, the bus driver pulled over near Valour Road and Sargent Avenue, Fawcett said, and demanded she and her cousin get off the bus.
"As I was getting off the bus … I'm turning the stroller and she's like, 'Oh I feel f---ing sorry for your son,' and I, like, looked at her and was like, 'What? You feel sorry for my son?' And then she just swung at me, punched me in the face, right in the nose," Fawcett said.
"I was in tears because when someone hits your nose, you tear up."
Fawcett said she swung back at the driver's face, knocking off her glasses.
The teen said she picked up the driver's glasses and handed them back to her before the physical altercation continued.
"After that she was like, 'Get off the bus! Get off the bus!'" Fawcett said.
She alleges the driver hit her in the face several times, pushing her toward the door. When the driver hit her in the back of the head, Fawcett said, she punched the driver back in the face, leaving her with a bloody nose.
"Never in my life would I think a bus driver is going to assault me." - Caley Fawcett
Winnipeg police said Thursday the driver reported that Fawcett attacked her first. After speaking with the teen and reviewing security footage, police allege the driver was the one who started the physical altercation.
Fawcett said she is still in a state of disbelief about the incident.
"Never in my life would I think a bus driver is going to assault me," she said.
The driver has been released on a promise to appear in court at a later date.
The City of Winnipeg declined to comment on the case, saying it's a "human resources matter."
Drivers 'caught in the middle,' union says
The union representing Winnipeg Transit drivers says it does not condone violence on buses.
Unfortunately, it's all too familiar to see a fare dispute turn violent, said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president John Callahan, who added it's time for Winnipeg's transit system to move toward automated fare payment systems.
Bus drivers already have a tough enough job keeping their buses on schedule and ensuring the safety of passengers without having to collect people's payments and issue transfers, Callahan said.
"Whoever pays, they get a transfer. The transfer is your receipt that you paid a fare," he said. "Fare operators randomly enter the buses and everyone needs to show their receipt that they paid."
Callahan noted there were 60 assaults on Winnipeg Transit drivers last year, and two-thirds of those incidents involved fare disputes.
"The operators are caught in the middle, trying to enforce policies, and I think it is best left out of their hands," he said.
Coun. Janice Lukes, a member of council's finance committee, said she hopes a smart-card fare payment system that is in the works will make things easier for transit drivers.
"There's an awful lot for drivers to focus on and driving should be their number one focus, right? Driving, you know, letting passengers on and off. The whole monetary aspect of it brings a whole other dimension," she said Friday.
The new system would allow riders to tap a pre-loaded card on a reader to pay their fares.
The smart cards were tested in Winnipeg in June 2015, but Winnipeg Transit officials identified a number of problems that they wanted to work out before the system is fully implemented.
Officials are expected to make a presentation about the smart-card system to councillors on March 1.