Winnipeg Transit drivers face escalating violence, says union

Transit drivers in Winnipeg are facing an increasing number of violent assaults on the job, says the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1505.

60 assaults on bus drivers were reported in 2015, says ATU Local 1505 president

The union representing Winnipeg Transit drivers say members are facing an increasing number of violent assaults while on duty. (CBC)

Transit drivers in Winnipeg are facing an increasing number of violent assaults on the job, says the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1505.

In 2015 alone there were approximately 60 assaults against transit operators in the city, an increase of 54 per cent, said ATU.

"It ranges from punching, spitting, slapping, kicking, weapons, coffee thrown at them, beer cans, you name it," said John Callahan, president of ATU Local 1505.

The most common time for assaults is around 4 p.m., during the afternoon rush, and the vast majority involve a fare dispute, he said. There is no typical assailant in assaults against transit drivers, Callahan added. Men and women of all backgrounds abuse drivers.

"One of the most violent [assaults] in recent memory was actually a woman. She pounded on an operator for about 12 minutes, biting, pinching, pulling hair," he said.

More police officers on buses: union

ATU is asking Winnipeg Police to increase the number of plainclothes officers on board buses.

"We wouldn't want riders to intervene and risk being assaulted or injured themselves," said Callahan.

In Staten Island, NY plainclothes police officers routinely ride transit, said Callahan, and the program saw a more than 90 per cent reduction in assaults and fare evasion.

"The benefit of having plain clothes police officers serves two purposes, they can provide security on buses but it's also policing," he said.

Taking more officers out of cruisers and assigning them to buses gives officers the opportunity to monitor, for example, unsuspecting distracted drivers, said Callahan.

Winnipeg Transit drivers currently rely on a panic-button type security measure, called a "code one button" that allows them to notify dispatch if they need help as well as a 911 button.

CBC has asked Winnipeg Police for a response to the union's safety concerns.


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