News / Winnipeg

Winnipeggers say city needs transit police: survey

Ever since the fatal assault of a transit operator in early 2017, the local transit union has been calling for more dedicated transit police.

Metro file

The union representing transit drivers has learned Winnipeggers share its desire for more dedicated police riding city buses. 

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) local President John Callahan said it's telling that a "broad range" of residents surveyed for Probe Research between March 13 and 28 support the union's call for increased enforcement. 

"It seems to be that people using transit as well as people who are not using it hear what's going on and understand the issue," Callahan said, referencing the "almost daily occurrence" of operator assaults, which were brought into the public eye after one such assault in February had fatal consequences. 

Of the 600 adults polled, Callahan said the fact 64 per cent agree a dedicated transit police force is needed means the union's call for such protection isn't just anecdotal, and wouldn't just be welcomed by drivers who fear for their safety.

"We wanted these real numbers," he said. "They speak for themselves."

Callahan highlighted how only 20 per cent of respondents feel safe on the bus at night, and of those who regularly use the bus, just a quarter feel very safe at night. 

Of the individuals who don't feel safe using transit, about 80 per cent agreed more police would help make the bus feel safer. 

But much like the demographic breakdown of bike lane users tell a story about safety, Callahan said survey findings about who uses transit also tell a transit safety story.

"One thing I found in the results that's a bit concerning is the fact a lot of seniors (55+) are not using transit," he said. "Speaking with my own mother, who is 78, she said she won't use the bus because she doesn't feel safe–so I imagine safety may have something to do with it."

The survey didn't ask why people avoided the bus, but it did find regular transit users are predominantly younger people.

Callahan said it's "very concerning" many seniors don't ride the bus, noting transit should be an option for the youngest and oldest Winnipeggers, and seniors specifically "are the fastest growing segment of the population."

"We need to ensure they feel safe because they need to get around," he said. 

Increasing the transit police contingent is also important, he said, as the city plans to build out rapid transit lines. 

"I've been looking at a fair bit of research from across Canada… crime seems to gravitate towards transit stations," he said. "Let's get a jump on things and make (transit police) happen before we get there." 

The union has been calling for more safety measures since Feb. 14, when bus driver Irvine Fraser was killed on the job near the end of his late-night shift. A 22-year-old suspect has been charged.

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