Winnipeg has a severe shortage of bus drivers due to safety concerns, according to the city’s Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).
“We’ve lost a lot of people through early retirements because they can’t take on the risk anymore,” said union head Romeo Ignacio.
Ignacio says Winnipeg has lost a total of 150 drivers and the recent transit assaults are a contributing factor.
“We lost a lot of people from resignations, especially the newer ones. You know, when they start driving after their training, they see all this, they hear all this. And, you know, a lot of them say ‘this is not what we signed up for.'”
The assaults on transit drivers have gone up over the years with this year being the highest. In 2020 there were 90, in 2021, 92 and so far this year there have been 107.
However, those numbers do not include assaults made in bus shelters, only ones that took place on the bus.
Ignacio says he plans to meet with the mayor and councillor Janice Lukes, as well as premier Heather Stefanson, to address the driver shortage and safety issues.
“We need people patrolling our transit ways. All those areas we spoke to transit about, you know, monitoring the areas that are commonly the scene of crime and violent assaults. And we’re waiting and nothing’s been done.”
This is not the first time the transit safety issues have been brought to light by the union.
After an attack on a driver back in July which forced him to flee through a bus window, the union renewed calls for new security shields on city buses.
A union spokesperson said 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.”
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.
– with files from Global News’ Shane Gibson