An attack on a Winnipeg Transit driver — which forced him to flee through a bus window — has renewed calls for new security shields on city buses.
The attack happened Sunday night near Portage Avenue and Camden Place after the driver asked a woman causing a disturbance to leave the bus.
Police say the woman pulled out a knife and tried to stab the driver around the plastic safety barrier.
The driver ordered all passengers to exit the bus before escaping out the driver’s side window. No one was injured and a 41-year-old woman has been charged.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 (ATU) president Romeo Ignacio tells 680 CJOB’s The News the union is seeing a rise in instances where drivers are put at risk because the security shields currently installed on buses can be breached.
“I can recall at least seven incidents of, you know, people reaching into the driver’s compartment,” he said this week, adding drivers on all routes have expressed concern for their safety.
“If a member is being attacked with a weapon, there’s not a lot of room inside a driver’s compartment.
“We are asking for an extended shield. I think that would be the best way.”
The safety shields currently in use on city buses first began being installed in the fleet in 2019.
A union spokesperson says they’ve been asking the city to install new, extended shields since 2020 because the current design “has proven to be ineffective against preventing someone from reaching into the driver’s compartment.”
Schematics of a new shield made by New Flyer provided to Global News by ATU show a shield that extends further towards the buses’ front windows.
A city spokesperson said three models of shields were tested between 2009 and 2012 before an ATU survey found most drivers disliked the barriers for reasons that included reduced air flow, increased glare, and restricted ability to interact with customers.
Another two shields were tested with 700 drivers in a 2017 pilot project, and the spokesperson said the current barrier was chosen out of that test.
While the city’s Transit Advisory Committee is discussing other protective shields as new designs come to market, the spokesperson said it’s “premature to share potential outcomes that may result from this discussion.”
Ignacio acknowledges the shields currently installed on buses have stopped “major assaults” but says more protection is needed, noting the driver involved in the latest attacked told him he was “inches away” from the knife.
“The only recourse he had is to, you know, try to squeeze through that window,” he said.
“He was more concerned about the passengers … it was a packed bus and it could have been a lot worse — people could have been injured.”