Winnipeg Transit recommends safety shields on city buses, at cost of $3.15M

Winnipeg Transit is recommending the city install safety shields on buses, a year and a half after the city decided to run a pilot project testing them out.

Report released Wednesday advises public works committee to approve spending on shields for 630 buses

Winnipeg Transit recommended shields on all 630 city buses at a cost of $3.15 million. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Winnipeg Transit is recommending the city install safety shields on buses, a year and a half after the city decided to run a pilot project testing them out.

In a report to the city's public works committee on Wednesday, Transit recommended the city include $3.15 million in the 2019 budget to install the shields on all 630 buses in the fleet.

The committee will decide whether to approve the recommendation at a meeting on Jan. 8. If that happens, the cost for the shields will be added to this year's budget, which must be approved in March.

The recommendation comes more than 18 months after Transit recommended the shields in May 2017, among several other safety measures proposed following the killing of driver Irvine Jubal Fraser in February 2017.

It also follows frustration from Winnipeg Transit drivers about the slow pace of implementation, including the threat of a strike in November 2018.

A pilot project for the shields began in 2017 and ended Aug. 31, 2018. During the pilot, the city installed six shields supplied by two companies vying for the final contract.

Transit's report says the two businesses, New Flyer and Arow Global, entered into a partnership after the trial ended, leaving Arow as the sole candidate.

'Finally they are going to deliver': Transit union

​Drivers have said the shields can't prevent every incident, but they help protect drivers against daily abuses such as spitting or throwing things.

The report set no timeline for when the shields will be installed.

Aleem Chaudhary, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505, said he hopes to see it done within a year and a half. The union has been pushing for the move since Fraser's death nearly two years ago.

Aleem Chaudhary, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505, said the union has been pushing for shields on buses for close to two years, and has other goals for bus safety including transit police. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"I think it's a great move, and we appreciate the fact we've been pushing for this for years and finally they are going to deliver," he said.

Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), chair of public works, said the city dedicated time to the project to ensure it was done properly.

"I think you want to make sure to do it right," he said. "And we've been doing that by first testing it, getting some feedback from drivers and now looking at what's the most efficient way of deploying it."

Allard said he'll be speaking in favour of the shields when the public works committee meets. But he said it remains to be seen whether the recommendation will be approved.

"I don't think a decision's been made until we have a budget," he said.

"As you can see from the [report], we're looking at a significant city-wide deficit in terms of the monies that we have to find to balance the budget. So ultimately I don't want to prejudge the process."

Winnipeg Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) said he'll speak in favour of bus shields but didn't want to prejudge the process to say whether they'd be approved. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Chaudhary said transit police remain the transit union's main goal. The city's transit supervisors aren't trained as well as police, he said, and he'd like to see that change.

But he said he's pleased with the recommendation to move forward with the shields.

"Obviously we want to see it done as soon as possible," he said.

"Our passengers and our operators, they all have the right to a safe workplace and a safe environment for transportation."