'Enough is enough': Winnipeg Transit operator says more safety training needed

A Winnipeg Transit operator said she is angry and worried that drivers don't have enough training to deal with violent assaults on the job, and that many incidents go unreported over fears of being reprimanded.

In the wake of fatal attack, bus driver speaks out about violence on buses

A Winnipeg Transit operator, who did not want to be identified, said drivers need more training to deal with violence on board city buses.

A Winnipeg Transit operator said she is angry and worried that drivers don't have enough training to deal with violent assaults on the job, adding that many such incidents go unreported.

"Enough is enough," said the young female driver, who did not want to be identified for fear of being reprimanded.

The driver, who wants to be called "Frances," wanted to speak out after the fatal stabbing of her colleague Irvine Fraser on his bus early Tuesday. 

Frances said she has been physically assaulted by passengers several times in her five years on the job with Winnipeg Transit and has only reported three of the incidents to police.

"There have been countless other attempts of assaulting me where I have not reported it for fear of being blamed," she said.

Frances said one time, she called her supervisor for help with an unruly passenger on her bus and was told to keep driving. 

"Transit says it is safer for us drivers to keep the bus moving then it is to stop the bus and potentially defend ourselves," said Frances.

"My worst fear is being punched while I'm driving," she said.
CBC's Jillian Taylor looks at Winnipeg Transit's protocol for dealing with potentially violent passengers, in light of the fatal stabbing of a bus driver this week. 2:00

Frances said she would like to see all Transit drivers get more defence training to deal with physical assaults.

She said right now drivers are required to take an assault prevention program, a half-day course that teaches drivers to stay in their seats and try to talk their way out of a violent situation.

"And you are required to stay in your seat and you are required to turn your back to the window and they want you to kick open the door and say stop." 

"Obviously we never want it to escalate to a physical altercation, however if a physical altercation does occur, that is our training, that is all we get!" said Frances. 

"Honestly, it's bullshit."

Transit: drivers get training, support

A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said Transit drivers get a full day of training to deal with assaults and conflicts but would not disclose the details of what the training involves.

"Winnipeg Transit's bus operator training dedicates a full day to conflict resolution and assault avoidance. It involves both classroom and practical aspects. These topics are also touched on numerous times throughout the rest of the 30-day training program," said the emailed statement to CBC.

"In the event of an unruly passenger, operators are trained to call the Control Centre for assistance. The Control Centre is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Depending on the situation, the Control Centre may dispatch a supervisor or notify the Winnipeg Police Service. They also may ask that the operator remain at that location or continue back to the Transit Garage," the statement said.

But Frances said the training is not enough. She also said transit drivers get no training on how to deal with riders suffering from mental illness or drug addiction.

"We have absolutely no training when it comes to people dealing [with] mental health issues, which is a real problem."

Frances said policies must change to ensure drivers feel safe to report assaults to their own supervisors.

"At the end of the day it comes down to the policy-makers, it comes down to our local politicians."

The city statement also said that adding surveillance cameras has led to "an increase in the successful identification of assailants."

Police officers have already started riding Winnipeg Transit buses to improve safety, though a formal plan has not been announced. 
A 22-year-old man, Brian Kyle Thomas, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of bus driver Irvine Fraser. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

The city statement did not respond to a question about Frances' allegation that she has been reprimanded for reporting altercations.

'Death rests at their feet'

Frances said ultimately, Fraser's recent death aboard a Transit bus could have been avoided.

Fraser died after he was stabbed multiple times during an altercation with a passenger who did not want to get off the bus. 

"This death rests at their feet, absolutely."

Frances was so upset about Fraser's death that she penned an open letter to the public and local politicians about her concerns.