Passengers depart a Thunder Bay Transit bus at the Water Street terminal on Feb. 7, 2013.
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THUNDER BAY -- Two assaults against local transit drivers within a few weeks of each other has the local union president pushing for improved safety.
Officials with the Thunder Bay Police Service say officers attended a George Street location just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5 to investigate an incident involving a city bus driver and a passenger.
Police say it is alleged that the bus driver confronted a passenger to pay for the bus ride. That male passenger assaulted the bus driver during the confrontation.
A 46-year-old Thunder Bay has since been arrested and charged with assault.
The second incident involving a transit operator is still under investigation.
Sheila Kivisto, president for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 966, said although the two incidents are isolated, the threats of violence directed at drivers is ongoing and has to be addressed.
“It’s getting worse as the years go by,” she said. “For us to have two incidents within a few week period, it was just time for us to do something. I talked to some of the drivers and some of them are afraid. I don’t doubt that they are. Everyone has to be on alert. We can’t let things surprise us as much as we can.”
The union is trying to implement new procedures to deal with safety issues.The procedure would be a consistent guide for operators on how to deal with problem passengers.
Since the first incident happened, Kivisto said they have been putting the pressure on management to have the procedure completed.
Nationally, the union is also working to work on legislation to make assaults on bus drivers more severe.
“The most important thing is making sure our operators are safe then the passengers are safe,” she said.
“We know our regulars and people who do generally cause problems and stuff like that. The biggest thing is enough is enough.”
She added that within the next month, operators will be receiving additional training.
At-Large Coun. Larry Hebert often rides transit and only witnessed a single incident where he could recall where a transit driver appeared angry. He said the driver shouted at a passenger when they didn’t listen to put their feet down off of the seats.
But Hebert added he’s aware that more serious incidents do happen.
“I’ve heard indirectly from other drivers that there has been assaults and they’re isolated incidents,” Hebert said.
“I think it is safe to ride the bus. It’s a terrible position to put people in. I understand the most recent one happened at Intercity Shopping Centre about a week ago. “
For the most part, Hebert believes both passengers and drivers are respectful to one another.
He said he’s seen passengers thank drivers for the ride and drivers going out of their way to accommodate their passengers.
“I would say a vast majority of people have a great respect for the drivers,” he said. “Overall, I think there’s a great respect both ways. There’s just the odd incident, unfortunately. There serious, no question.”
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