The Current

Bus drivers call for national strategy to protect them on the job

The death of a Winnipeg bus driver has mobilized public transit drivers who say they face constant threats and danger.
Winnipeg police are investigating a stabbing on the University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus that left a Winnipeg transit driver dead Tuesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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Winnipeg public transit bus driver Irvine Jubal Fraser was killed on February 14, after being stabbed multiple times by a passenger. He was 58-years-old.

Since the murder, transit workers are coming forward with their own stories of passengers abuse — from bullying and harassment, to spitting and assault — despite many drivers being forbidden to speak out.

Bus driver Irvine Fraser was fatally stabbed on duty February 14, 2017. (Facebook)

Robin Winkley, a former bus driver with the Toronto Transit Commission, says she was attacked on a weekly basis.

"You would be verbally assaulted, abused, threatened, and physically assault[ed] … We went out kind of thinking 'OK it's going to happen again today.'"

"Our statistics show that five operators across Canada are assaulted on a daily basis," confirms Paul Thorp, the national president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

"And this does not include the numbers of assaults that people are just too ashamed to report. Somebody gets spat on and they're just in utter shock and revulsion by what has just transpired, and they don't want to tell anybody."

Going Foreward

Winkley says drivers are more at risk because they are responsible for challenging passengers who offer insufficient fare.

"You never really know who's going to blow up in your face. Near the end of my career, I was just like 'whatever I don't care —  it's not worth getting spat on.'

"If you look at pilots, if you look at train operators — they are in their own cabin. Bus operators are left out to be vulnerable to these heinous attacks," adds Thorp.

Thorp maintains transit employers are mainly at fault.

"Unfortunately our employers are not listening to what labor is telling them. They need to take traffic into account, passenger loads, daily traffic construction. All of these matter."

I think our employers — our government — need to stop putting a price tag on the humanity of our operators.- Paul Thorp

Jim Yakubowsi, a veteran bus driver in Saskatoon and president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 615, says better crisis management training could assist drivers.

"We have been requesting additional conflict resolution training for quite some time."

But one has to wonder whether the onus should be on the drivers. 

"For the public we haul everyday, I hope that we can educate on the required protocol, expected protocol and how our members are treated. We're just simply coming to work and doing our job."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese and Sujata Berry.