'It's scary': Union representing Thunder Bay Transit drivers calls for immediate safety upgrades
Local union president says operators lack protection while on the job
The union representing Thunder Bay Transit drivers is calling on city council to increase safety for their members as they face an increasing number of physical assaults.
A number of drivers and their families gathered outside city hall on Wednesday night, as councillors inside were starting the month-long process to set the 2020 city budget.
The union is calling on council to approve transparent partition shields around the driver's compartment and a panic button that can send direct alerts to police.
Ken Koza, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 966, said there is no protection in place right now for transit drivers.
"With these incidents on the rise, our members - the operators - are scared," Koza said. "They're getting to the point where I'm sure we're starting to see people that are wanting to stay home, that aren't coming to work as often because it's scary.
"It's unpredictable and they don't know what's going to happen that day at work."
Koza said there have been three particularly troubling violent incidents between October and December, including one on Boxing Day where a fare dispute escalated to a driver being repeatedly struck in the head and face.
Other cities, including Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton, have started to outfit their transit fleets with similar safety infrastructure.
The proposed capital budget does not include the installation of bus shields, though last August the provincial government signed off on the project through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program and recommended it to the federal government for final funding approval.
Koza, who estimated it would cost about $400,000 to outfit the entire fleet of conventional buses, said he has received positive feedback from members of council, including a ride-along with Mayor Bill Mauro earlier this week.
"I think the support is there. We're just waiting for council to make sure it's either in the 2020 budget, whether it's through funding, whether that's through them making sure the money is there," Koza said.
"We need to make sure something happens with these shields."