Saskatoon city council approves pilot program to protect bus drivers

Saskatoon’s city council voted to enact a pilot program to install barriers in some buses in the city to protect bus operators from violence.

The project, proposed by Ward 9 councillor Bev Dubois, dedicates $500,000 to purchasing laminated safety glass barriers and installing them in 24 buses so drivers are protected from the potential violence of passengers.

A report, written by the city administration, states 28 operators have been assaulted since January 2017.

Read more: No plans for safety upgrades after Saskatoon bus driver bear sprayed, spat on

It says that is less than one assault per every million riders on Saskatoon Transit in that time — but the head of the bus operators union said one assault is too many.

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Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 615 president Darcy Pederson told Global News bus drivers have been less safe during the pandemic and that the report fails to include other forms of violence.

“We’ve got fights, we’ve got… people intimidating our operators, we’ve got people physically attacking the bus, trying to smash windows and mirrors and physically getting on top of the bus,” he said, speaking on the phone shortly before his presentation to city council.

He told the mayor and councillors, who were sitting for their first regularly-scheduled meeting of the new term, that all 140 city buses should be upgraded — an option the report estimated would cost between $890,000 and $2.3 million.

Read more: 4 youth charged in reported assault on Saskatoon Transit driver, police officer

He said the current vinyl barriers, which he described as “shower curtains,” were ineffective.

The city began installing the barriers in May to protect operators from the novel coronavirus.

Pederson said some passengers had simply moved them aside to speak to the driver, defeating the purpose of having them at all.

He also said they failed to stop any violence.

The councillors and city officials discussed different options, with self-defence classes for operators being mentioned at one point.

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The motion to retrofit 24 buses, using funds from the federal gas tax fund, unanimously passed.

Read more: Council votes in favour of non-medical masks for Saskatoon Transit passengers

It includes a clause compelling the administration to report back on the results of the phase-in program and to provide a funding strategy for equipping all other buses before the 2022 budget deliberations.

Coun. Randy Donauer seconded Dubois’ motion, telling the council “if we looked at any other department and were told we’ve had 28 assaults in the past 20 years, we would be taking action.”

Coun. Darren Hill proposed another motion, which also passed, for the City to gather more data about the assaults and other “negative interactions” between passengers and operators.

Click to play video 'Saskatoon transit union flags safety concerns after assault on bus driver' 1:22 Saskatoon transit union flags safety concerns after assault on bus driver

Saskatoon transit union flags safety concerns after assault on bus driver – Feb 28, 2020

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