Saskatoon Transit reports increase in negative interactions between drivers and passengers

A new report heading to city council says that Saskatoon Transit drivers are having to put up with more bad behaviour from riders.

Drivers reported 130 incidents of assault, harassment, spitting on drivers in 2020

A report from Saskatoon Transit shows a large jump in the number of negative interactions with the public in 2020. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

A new report heading to city council says that Saskatoon Transit drivers are having to put up with more bad behaviour from riders.

On Monday, the city's transportation committee received a report saying there had been 130 negative interactions with passengers in 2020. The behaviour ranged from assault to harassment to fare disputes.

This is a sharp increase from the previous year, where only 76 negative interactions were noted.

Transit manager Jim McDonald said the increase may be because drivers have been encouraged to report bad behaviour.

"We wanted to find out the truth about what was happening on the street," he said.

"I expect that this reporting will even show more significant numbers in the future because we're now getting people used to reporting even the smallest events ... But yes, the increase in numbers is concerning."

Councillors asked for the report after voting last year to spend $500,000 to begin installing safety barriers in buses. The phased-in program has the long-term goal of retrofitting 140 buses starting next year.

"We hope that [the barriers] will give them pause," said McDonald.

"At the very least, what it will do is it will stop those people that are really bent on physical altercation from actually being able to get in and touch somebody in their operating compartment."

McDonald noted that physical assaults on drivers seems to be relatively steady over the last several years. From 2017 to 2020, there were 37 assaults reported on drivers, with 28 of them happening inside the driver's compartment.

In 2019, Saskatoon Transit made it easier for drivers to come forward with complaints, adding a button on their mobile data terminals that immediately notifies headquarters of any altercations.

McDonald said it's difficult to say how much COVID-19 was responsible for the jump in cases.

"For 2020, there was a whole bunch of stuff that I think we can throw at the foot of COVID," he said.

"Frustration with the world and frustration with what was going on in society was clearly evident across across the spectrum." 

Saskatoon Transit said it has trained its drivers in de-escalation techniques to help them diffuse situations before they get worse.

With files from Saskatoon Morning


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