News / Winnipeg

'Good intentions' in new Winnipeg bus safety practices: Transit union

John Callahan, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505, said the best idea of many proposed is the formation of a new transit advisory board.

Winnipeg bus drivers marched to demand safety improvements on buses in February; This week, a city committee will consider implementing some of what those operators were after, including an increased security presence on buses.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg bus drivers marched to demand safety improvements on buses in February; This week, a city committee will consider implementing some of what those operators were after, including an increased security presence on buses.

Three and a half months after a Winnipeg Transit operator was killed on the job, the city is ready to respond with several measures meant to bolster bus safety.

Two reports—one prepared by city staff and one from a group of councillors—detail several ways to make transit safer, from hiring more inspectors and installing more cameras, to zero tolerance on fare evasion and more.

John Callahan, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505, which represents Winnipeg’s transit employees, said the host of security measures being proposed at Tuesday’s infrastructure and public works committee (IRPW) meeting demonstrate “good intentions,” but one idea stands out above the rest.

“Both (reports) share the transit advisory committee idea, and we think that’s very, very important,” Callahan said. “That’s going to be a great venue to address the multitude of issues.”

He explained that the other measures proposed, as detailed as they are and helpful as they may be, are all concepts that would be better left to a new board or committee with relevant stakeholders around the table to discuss at greater length.

“We want to see this advisory committee up and running, then we can take all of these suggestions and ideas and go through them one by one, hear from the right stakeholders, see what makes the most sense, and gives the most bang for our buck,” Callahan said.

The report also details safety initiatives that have been added over time.

Callahan said many of the steps taken to date to improve safety have most likely helped, like the many cameras already on buses and assault prevention training for drivers, but he thinks future efforts will be more successful if evaluated and reviewed by the new advisory board.

“Cameras for example, they’re great after the fact, great for getting footage of an assault or an incident and prosecuting an individual, but they do little—it would seem—to prevent assaults,” he said. “Maybe assaults would be a lot higher if we didn’t have them, but it’s tough to say without (evaluation).”

But even before a new committee or board is struck, he wants to “get the ball rolling” on immediate safety programs to put a dent in the day-to-day safety issues commuters and operators face on transit.

“Three months for this report was a long time, because our members are growing very, very impatient,” Callahan said. “They want to see some improvement, so we want to hit the ground running—get working, roll up our sleeves.”

Safety practices slotted for 2017 implementation in the administrative report include a pilot project to test bus operator safety barriers “to reduce the opportunity for operator assaults,” launching a “see something, say something” campaign to encourage passengers to report "undesirable behaviour,” and “establishing reporting procedures to the Winnipeg Police Service for proactive safety initiatives.”

The report also recommends forming a new transit advisory committee in 2017.

Further initiatives, including expanding surveillance systems, hiring additional instructors to help operators “prevent and diffuse conflict,” putting inspectors at “set strategic locations,” and hiring five full time employees to provide a “security presence” are recommended for referral to the 2018 budget process.

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