A 65-year-old Edmonton Transit System bus driver was taken to hospital with serious injuries after being stabbed by a teenager in southeast Edmonton early Wednesday morning.
It happened at around 3:40 a.m. at the Mill Woods Town Centre transit terminal, when police said a teenage boy approached the driver, who was sitting in his seat inside the otherwise empty bus.
“There was an altercation that happened; the bus driver was assaulted,” EPS Acting Duty Officer James Vanderland said.
“After the assault, the bus driver was able to get free and retreat to the actual terminal itself, where EPS was called,” Vanderland said, adding the driver called 911 himself.
Officers arrived to find the ETS bus driver had suffered multiple injuries from the stabbing. Vanderland said the driver was taken to the University of Alberta hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. Alberta Health Services said the senior was in stable condition when he was transported by paramedics.
Mark Tetterington, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569 which represents ETS operators, told Global News he spoke with the transit branch manager, who said the driver was stabbed around a dozen times by a youth who asked for a ride downtown.
Tetterington was told the boy approached the driver and asked for a ride because the out-of-service bus was returning to the garage in that direction. The driver phoned control to say a stranded teen needed a ride, and was told a peace officer would come pick up the youth.
While the driver was stabbed many times, Tetterington said that amazingly, the wounds were shallow enough for the driver to only need stitches — adding no arteries or veins were hit. The driver was expected to be released from hospital later on Wednesday, the union president said.
Officers think the teen was trying to steal the bus.
“When EPS arrived, this male youth was in the driver’s seat trying to put it in gear. So he was actually arrested right in the driver’s seat.”
Vanderland chuckled when asked if the youth was even old enough to have a driver’s licence. Police later confirmed the suspect is a 15-year-old boy.
Vanderland said there were cameras on the bus and in the terminal, so the stabbing was captured on video.
A section of the transit centre, including a bus, was blocked off with police tape early Wednesday morning. Vanderland didn’t think transit users would be overly affected by the police investigation.
ETS said buses would be picking up and dropping off passengers beside the transit centre on Hewes Way while police conducted their investigation.
Transit safety in question
The vicious attack on bus driver Tom Bregg in 2009 put the need for better bus security into the spotlight. Bregg was dragged from behind the wheel, pulled off his bus and stomped on the face 15 times. Bregg spent two weeks in intensive care and was left with brain injuries and blindness in one eye.
The attack led to federal legislation, called Bregg’s Law, being passed in 2015 to allow more severe penalties for attacks on bus, taxi and limo drivers.
Tetterington said violence towards bus drivers isn’t going away.
“The assaults are getting worse and worse. We’ve had two very, very serious assaults — including this one — over the last two months,” Tetterington said, adding another transit driver was beat up at the Lewis Farms Transit Centre in the west end in the summer.
Watch below: An attack on an Edmonton city bus driver is part of what some describe as a disturbing trend. The violence upsets drivers and riders. As Fletcher Kent reports, city council is worried too.
Mayor Don Iveson said he is very concerned about the attack.
“There is an important conversation happening about safety on transit because we have had some significant incidents, so I think it’s going to be a continued focus for council,” Iveson said.
According to a report released earlier this year, there were 130 cases of assault against transit operators between 2015 and early 2018.
Earlier this year, Tetterington said operators have become more apprehensive about working nights, especially on certain bus routes. The ones Tetterington pointed out as posing the most danger are the No. 1, the No. 5 and the No. 8. Threats the drivers have been subjected to have included punching, spitting and verbal abuse.
Bigger bus shields?
The city has been looking at implementing retractable shields on new buses, at a cost of approximately $5,000 per unit.
“There’s an inquiry about the bus shield that the administration is working on,” Iveson said. “I don’t know the date that it’s coming back, but I suspect it’ll be in the next couple of months — so we’re having that shield discussion as well. The union has suggested that we should pursue that so I’m open to looking at that.”
The city tested shields on buses from 2009 to 2010, but operators ultimately did not support the installation of full shields, due to complaints of claustrophobia and being cut off from the passengers on their routes.
The ability for operators to retract the shields, however, might solve these problems. Iveson said there are trade-offs when it comes to the operator/patron experience and there are a lot of factors to consider.
“Ultimately, I want to see the kind of transit system where people, including operators, feel safe and don’t need barriers — but we’ll look at all our options.”
During budget deliberations this fall, the plan is to increase transit security staffing over the next four years. There’s also a plan to have Edmonton police officers and transit peace officers work in three-member units.
“We’ve worked with Edmonton police to put a dedicated police unit on and increased our peace officer deployment,” Iveson said. “But if there are more things that we need to do, we’re open to suggestions from the public and from the transit union and from our experts.”
As for Wednesday’s attack, Iveson said the city is working with police.
“We will hold accountable and work with police to provide whatever video evidence — because most of the buses have cameras on them now — to assist them in holding the perpetrator accountable for this.
“There have to be consequences.”
— With files from Scott Johnston, Global News, and Tim Rauf