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Saskatoon transit safety report being built to address violence, harassment

Saskatoon City Council greenlit a report to come back giving information on transit safety. File / Global News

Saskatoon City Councillor David Kirton brought forward a motion Monday to see if a transit safety program would be effective. The original motion was withdrawn, but not without a broader report on transit safety being greenlit.

Kirton said with his original motion that he was looking to have officers posted on buses and at transit stops.

“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many drivers who are close to and witnessing acts of violence and harassment on the buses,” said Kirton.

“According to one operator, a lot of situations get elevated much quicker than before. It’s like people don’t care what they do when an operator mentions the fair, or tries to enforce a rule. They swear, yell, and scream, sometimes spit, or physically assault an operator.”

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Kirton said some sort of transit support program would create a safe, clean and reliable bus service.

He gave other examples that he said came from bus operators: windows have been shot out with a firearm; workers have been held up at gunpoint; people on drugs have tried to force their way on to the bus; and people have started fights on the bus.

Kirton noted that he wasn’t looking for full fledged police officers for this transit enforcement system, but said that Community Support Officers (CSO) would fit the position well.

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon city council approves pilot program to protect bus drivers' Saskatoon city council approves pilot program to protect bus drivers
Saskatoon city council approves pilot program to protect bus drivers – Nov 30, 2020

Administration said if the motion passed, an interim report would come back making sure that the City is gathering the right data.

A previous report to council covered what it would cost to post Commissionaires security at transit stops, but Kirton said he wanted to go beyond that, and have people who are trained in de-escalation.

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“On 20th Street, the CSO’s know the names of the people on the street. They’ve gotten to know them that well, and the people on the street know the names of the CSO’s.”

“I would love to see a program where we would have people, whatever we would want to call them, TSO’s, be on the bus, and know the names of the people that they’re communicating or encountering as well,” added Kirton.

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Other councillors took issue with the original motion, saying that more data needed to come forward.

Coun. Hillary Gough said she agreed with the intent of Kirton’s motion, but said the issue needed to be better understood before investing in solutions.

“We have a transit service right now that’s facing monumental technical challenges that are fundamentally compromising reliability of our basic services, and we need to address those first,” said Gough.

She said barriers in transit buses aren’t fully implemented yet, and they haven’t had a chance to evaluate them.

Coun. Bev Dubois said there wasn’t enough data to say that this was the best way to approach this transit issue.

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Coun. Zach Jeffries also said that he couldn’t support the original motion, saying that there is an issue that needs to be addressed but that he still had many questions, and wanted to see more information come back.

Kirton said after reading the room that he wanted to retract his motion, instead amending it so that administration would come back with a safety report and summary on incidents happening on transit buses and transit facilities. The amended motion was carried unanimously.

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