Manitoba

City begins fleet-wide safety shield rollout on Winnipeg Transit buses

Winnipeg Transit started installing safety shields on buses this week, part of a push to improve driver safety after the slaying of former transit operator Jubal Fraser, who was stabbed to death while working in 2017.

Push for improved operator safety gained steam after 2017 stabbing death of transit operator

Winnipeg Transit operator tries out the new bus shield. Fleet should be fully equipped in the next five months. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Winnipeg Transit riders will start to see more and more veneers of hard plastic separating them from the bus operators who greet them as they step aboard.

The city is starting to install safety shields on Winnipeg Transit buses this week. The goal is to install the protective barriers on the fleet of 630 at a rate of 15 per week and complete the installations by March 2020, said Winnipeg Transit operations manager Randy Tonnellier.

The estimated cost of the project is $3.15 million.

Bus driver safety has been at the forefront of discussions between the city and the union representing transit workers since 2017, when driver Jubal Fraser was stabbed to death.

"We fought for the last couple years to get these shields installed," said Aleem Chaudhary, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505. "Thank God we got them."

The call from the union for the shields encountered some opposition, but with buy-in from some city councillors and the persistence of the union, it's now become a reality, Chaudhary said.

$3.7K per shield

The fleet-wide installation follows a city pilot project that started in fall 2017, when two kinds of shields were installed on six buses for nine months.

The model the city chose is a two-pane adjustable shield preferred by operators. It costs about $3,700 per shield, Tonnellier said.

Shields already exist on public transportation in a variety of Canadian cities, including several cities in Ontario and in B.C., and Tonnellier said Vancouver is currently installing the same model of shields on its city buses.

Edmonton is in the middle of its own shield installation project, expected to cost just under $7 million.

ATU 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary says the installation rollout is the result of union members pushing for change in recent years. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Chaudhary said he's happy the city is making driver safety a priority. He expects the measures will provide peace of mind to operators and reduce costs associated with operators taking time off after violent altercations.

'Win-win situation'

"It's a win-win situation," he said. "For our members, it's a big victory, because they're protected and they'll feel safer."

In addition to the shields, the city has enhanced and expanded security surveillance systems to deter bad behaviour and to help identify suspects involved in crimes on buses, said Coun. Matt Allard, chair of the standing policy committee on infrastructure renewal and public works.

The city also improved operator training in conflict de-escalation, Allard said, and brought in four new duty inspectors to help operators and riders at specific locations in the city.

"The shields are one of many tools that we have brought in to ensure better safety," he said.

"I have a message here today: it's that I think we're taking transit safety very seriously and that we are putting significant resources, perhaps unprecedented resources, in transit security."

Randy Tonnellier, operations manager for Winnipeg Transit, speaks with media Thursday at a shield installation kickoff event. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Although the shields may not end violence against drivers, they could lessen the severity of assaults, Allard said.

Chaudhary hopes other cities mulling similar safety measures can soon look to Winnipeg for lessons on how to reduce violent acts toward drivers.

Strike risk looms

Meanwhile, the prospect of a transit worker strike continues to loom.

The union, which represents about 1,400 transit employees, including drivers, remains in the middle of a contract dispute with the city.

Transit employees voted overwhelmingly to reject the most recent contract deal, which the city said was a final offer. Employees represented by the union have been without a collective bargaining agreement since January.

Chaudhary said the city recently approached the province to appoint a conciliator to help ink a deal.

Winnipeg Transit riders will start to see more and more veneers of hard plastic separating them from the bus operators who greet them as they step aboard. 2:29

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Bryce Hoye

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Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson

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