New Sudbury buses could feature safety barriers for drivers

New buses would feature one big change – each unit will include protective barriers, in the form of metal doors with sliding windows.

Assault, verbal assault at top of list of safety concerns for bus drivers, city says

A Sudbury Transit bus waits at the downtown terminal. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

The city of Sudbury is considering replacing its fleet of buses with new ones that feature a protective barrier for the driver.

The plan would see the entire fleet updated by 2030 with funds from the federal government's Infrastructure Canada program.

Passengers will notice one big change in the new buses – each unit will include protective metal doors with sliding windows.

The barriers, or compartments, will offer bus drivers more protection, but Bruno Lafortune, Sudbury Transit's Operations Manager, said  that shouldn't be taken as a sign that the city is getting more dangerous. 

"You know what? We have a great city here. I don't see this city as being dangerous at all," Lafortune said. "There was a few moments where we've had some incidents but overall to look at our city, I think we have a pretty safe city."

Bruno Lafortune, the Sudbury Transit Operations Manager, says a serious assault on a bus driver prompted the city to reconsider how it protects its drivers. (Caroline Bourdua/Radio-Canada)

The idea of protective barriers on buses was first floated past drivers in 2014, Lafortune said. 

"We had done surveys with the employees at the time," he said. "A majority of the employees, I would probably say about 75 per cent, did not want the barriers. So basically we did not proceed."

But in 2017, a knife-wielding man attacked a bus driver on Paris Street. The driver managed to wrestle the attacker to the ground before police arrived. It was soon after that, Lafortune said, that drivers got on board with the idea of protective barriers.

It's one more "tool," Lafortune said, that will help keep drivers safe.

"We've done many things over the years," he said. "We've done a lot of crisis intervention training. We've put cameras on all buses. We've got emergency panic alarms on there, a radio system where you have complete access to the supervisor on duty."

"Every year we move forward, and safety is a great priority for us here at Sudbury transit."

As for the dynamic between passenger and driver, Lafortune said some of the drivers had concerns about having such a barrier in place.

"They're bus operators and they liked the interaction with the public," he said. "So we reached out to our peers that have installed these or that are planning on installing these.

"We reached out and talked about the experience with customer service, and because it's got the sliding window, you still get to communicate, there's no barrier there. So the customer service end of it will still be be able to happen."

Currently, Sudbury has one bus with the protective barrier in place. It is used on different routes, so passengers can slowly get used to the idea.

The new buses will be integrated with the entire transit system.

This week Sudbury's Community Services committee passed a resolution to move forward with the buses.

The plan must still be approved by city council.

With files from Angela Gemmill


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