I am not a regular rider on Winnipeg Transit. I have been – both during my time as a university student and as a lawyer at a downtown firm. I still ride the bus on occasion, and plan to do so more often now that my sons are able to get themselves to school each morning. But one of the issue I have championed as a Councillor is transit safety. Tragically, this issue has returned to the forefront with the recent unprovoked, fatal assault on a Winnipeg Transit driver.
In the wake of the fatal stabbing I reflected on the efforts over the past 5 years. When I spoke to the media – and I had more media requests on the day of the stabbing than on any other day in my period as Councillor – I said that this was not a case where I could say “I warned you all, and you did nothing”. Rather, the City has taken some concrete steps in recent years to assist with security. Tragically, it was not enough to save the driver stabbed on February 14.
In 2012 I began pushing for increased security after meeting with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the union which represents the bus drivers. In early January, 2013 I pushed for inclusion of transit safety measures in the city budget. Unfortunately, this did not succeed. However, the discussion around the issue resulted in a study of other cities’ transit security measures in 2013, and this study called for the addition of six more transit security “inspectors”. Having been named to the City’s Executive Policy Committee (EPC) later in 2013 I had a better platform for raising the issue, and in the 2014 budget the city adopted the recommendation to add six inspectors.
In July, 2014 I fought for a transit security by-law, and as part of that, adding two police cadet positions dedicated to transit safety. There were many meetings with the three unions involved (ATU representing drivers, WAPSO representing inspectors, and Winnipeg Police Association representing police and cadets). This was a long fight and required both Council and Police Board approval. Though the approvals were won, that year no cadets were actually added to the police ranks, so cadets were not devoted to transit.
Following the 2014 election both Councillors Matt Allard and Cindy Gilroy enthusiastically backed the call for better transit security. In early 2016 the Police Board approved scheduling both plain clothes and uniformed police on city buses on a random basis. By all accounts from the ATU, the step of adding police has dramatically help reduce the number of assaults on drivers. As stated above, despite this progress, there was still the tragic stabbing.
On February 28 Council’s Infrastructure and Public Works Committee voted for a complete review of Winnipeg Transit’s security measures to see what other jurisdictions do, and what else the City of Winnipeg could be doing. I don’t know if this study will result in recommendations for more transit police, more City police, or some other measures. We have in the past debated protective shields (which were at the time opposed by both Transit management and the bus drivers’ union), equipping drivers with pepper spray, or removing drivers from the duty of confirming fare payment.
For a few days after the stabbing, media calls poured in and the social media sites lit up with people expressing their opinions. All of this died down after a few days. The challenge will be to remain committed to the issue after the original frenzy of interest has passed. I remain committed to further working on this project, both for the safety of the drivers and for the passengers.