A brutal assault on a father and son while riding a Winnipeg transit bus has sparked yet another conversation around transit safety in the city.
Two people are in custody after a man and his 10-year-old son were assaulted on a Winnipeg bus Thursday night, police said.
Officers were called to the stopped bus on Main Street around 8:30 p.m., where they found the injured victims. According to police, a male and a female passenger randomly shouted obscenities at the father and son before punching both in the head a number of times.
The conversation around transit safety typically centres on the safety of transit workers, and Thursday’s incident shifts the conversation to passengers.
Chris Scott, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1505, called it an “unprovoked attack” and said the violence “seems to be happening more and more, not only with the public, but obviously with my membership, with the operators.”
“It’s grown to epic proportions. There’s something tangible that needs to be done to improve safety,” Scott said.
Scott told 680 CJOB that since Jan. 1, he has received 10 notifications of assault, “whether that be uttering threats, verbal racial slurs, being thrown pop or coffee being dumped on the operator or physical interaction.”
Waverley West Coun. Janice Lukes said she is aware that people feel there’s a lot of talk around transit safety but no action.
“We need to find a solution that we can afford, that we can pay for,” she said
“We have to identify money and we have to get approval and work with the province.“
Lukes, who is also the chair of the transit advisory committee, said the number one priority is determining an improved safety shield around the drivers.
“We’re going to be piloting different models for the drivers to determine which type of safety shield they prefer.”
Scott said that the union had a meeting with Mayor Scott Gillingham and Coun. Lukes and that they understand the importance of implementing tangible safety measures and a lot of good ideas have been proposed.
“But it’s time to put them in place so that my members and the riding public can see that the service is getting safer,” Scott said.
Safety goes hand in hand with the reliability of the service so the public can have the best service possible, Scott said.
“We need to properly fund the service so that the busses aren’t always running late. That is obviously an aggravating factor for the riding public.”
Additionally, there needs to be a division of transit within the Winnipeg police department. “Most major cities have that, even if it’s on overlap days where they have the additional officers to do special projects, as was done several years ago,” Scott said.
Another problem Scott mentioned is fare enforcement, as the union has noticed fare evasion has grown.
“it’s not so much anymore the fare enforcement that triggers assault, it’s the fare evader.”
“People are empowered by the fact that they can just do what they want and get on the bus without paying so they can do what they want to the people on the bus and have no consequences of it.”
And lastly, he said mental health awareness, addictions treatment and housing to lift people out of poverty are underlying issues that the federal and provincial governments need to address.