Navigating the streets of our ever-growing city, blazing trails through a fresh dump of snow or attempting a merge amongst anxious rush hour drivers might not be the most pressing concerns of transit drivers these days. Finishing a shift unscathed, on the other hand, could be.
On Jan. 5, a Calgary C-Train driver was chased by a knife-wielding man. Last August, three men boarded a Saddle Ridge bus, began beating the driver and spray-painted him before leaving the bus.
Mike Mahar of the Amalgamated Transit Union told me there are three to 10 assaults on transit workers per month and likely more that go unreported.
Violence is a growing concern for transit workers everywhere.
Maher has called for use of the honour system (drivers still take payment, but they’re to call security rather than challenge fare evaders) to deter potential conflicts. But a year-long transit safety audit completed in 2009 instead recommended tightening controls and implementing fares along the LRT’s free zone.
That flies in the face of what many other municipalities are doing. Metro Vancouver has been a fair-paid zone (honour system) for almost three years now, recognizing many incidents between drivers and passengers are triggered by conflicts over fares.
A passenger who refused to pay his fare while riding the B46 line in Brooklyn, N.Y. — a route notorious for fare-evaders — repeatedly stabbed and killed a bus driver in December 2008.
This month, New York City Transit will be piloting clear protective barriers between bus drivers and passengers on 100 city buses.
Vancouver is undergoing a similar pilot. But there’s concern barriers may not fend off a determined assailant. They could, however, reinforce a perception that public transit is dangerous.
Last summer, Maher called for the installation of protective barriers to equip Calgary buses, but was turned down.
B.C. bus drivers also have panic buttons installed along with GPS so when pressed, dispatchers can send help.
With each hit, there’s a miss though. A private member’s bill presented last spring in the House of Commons that would have made assaulting bus drivers equivalent to assaulting a police officer didn’t pass.
Maher is right that more needs to be done to protect transit workers. The trick will be finding effective solutions without moving our local public transportation in the same direction as security- and fear-laden airports.
Adrienne Beattie is a Calgary-born writer who has covered urban issues since 2001 and has an English degree from the University of Calgary.