City considers test run for protective shields on Edmonton Transit buses

City considers test run for protective shields on Edmonton Transit buses

The city is considering a pilot project that will see retractable shields installed on 10 Edmonton Transit buses.

Numbers provided by the city show 73 drivers were assaulted in 2017, up from 57 in 2016 and 42 in in 2015.

Most often drivers were punched or spat on, although many were bitten, kicked or had something thrown at them.

The majority of the disputes were over transit fares.

The figures show drivers on Route 8, which runs from 118th Avenue to Mill Woods, were assaulted most often, 26 times since 2015.

"We have to base good decisions on the data and the data is clearly showing that these incidents are increasing against our transit drivers," Coun. Mike Nickel said Thursday.

"These incidents are getting, let's just say, more hazardous," Nickel said. "That's why I think there's a lot of merit to this pilot.

"We can't be putting our employees in harm's way if we have tools available to us to prevent these sorts of problems."

Some drivers who have been attacked have quit, said Mark Tetterington, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union's Edmnton local.

"There's been people who have been spit on, they've looked for a new career after a couple of year of working here," Tetterington said. 

"They get spit on or slapped or punched and they say, 'Nope, this isn't for me, I'm not getting paid enough for this,' and they move on to other careers."

At $5,000 per shield, the pilot project would cost the city $50,000.

However Nickel does worry about the impression the shields give.

"We have to make a good case, not only from the business and safety side, but from the public-relations side," Nickel said.

"If it's done right, I don't think there will be any problem, but if it's done poorly then obviously people are going to ask questions why we need these shields at all."

Tetterington said he's familiar with the shields.

"It protects the operator, there's no way the person can punch them," he said.

"You hit the button and it just slides up and down," he said. "Most of the time you leave it down unless you feel threatened. If you feel threatened you bring it up."

The city plans to test the shields for 12 months once they're installed.

Toronto is the only Canadian city using shields to protect bus drivers.

Winnipeg installed them as part of pilot project, but rejected them after drivers complained they hampered visibility, restricted movement and allowed less contact with passengers.

Councillors will discuss the shields on May 24.