Many attacks on transit drivers not reported: ex-driver

A former Winnipeg Transit bus driver says drivers are under attack more often than what the city's official figures show, but many of those confrontations go unreported.

Brian Lennox says he was attacked eight times and shot at eight times during the 32 years he drove a Winnipeg Transit bus.

Now, he can't even ride a bus as a passenger.

"I just remember. It brings the memory, the trauma, into sharp focus," said Lennox, who presently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and no longer works.

The City of Winnipeg says a record 63 assaults on transit drivers were reported in 2011.

According to city officials, more than 400 assaults against transit drivers have been reported in the last 12 years, but Lennox says he thinks it's much higher than that.

"In all my incidents, I had police in attendance no more than a handful of times … 410 incidents reported is probably 4,000 incidents in reality," he said.

Lennox said he broke down in tears when he heard that a Winnipeg Transit driver may face charges for allegedly assaulting a 23-year-old female passenger on a bus earlier this month.

The 53-year-old male driver allegedly pushed the woman, who police said was intoxicated at the time and falling asleep on the bus with her feet up on a seat.

Lennox said he does not excuse what the driver did, but he understands why.

City officials have said transit operators are expected to provide good customer service, even in challenging situations, and all operators are trained to resolve problems and avoid escalation.

Drivers are advised to call police or the Transit Control Centre when they can't, officials have said.

But Lennox said during his career, Transit often refused to call police.

Lennox recalled when one of two men who were drinking at the back of his bus confronted him, after he had tried to call for help with his radio.

"He said, 'What's the big idea of calling the cops on us? I said, 'Hey buddy, I wanted to join the party and you wouldn't let me!' And he didn't laugh," he said.

"He unzipped his windbreaker and pulled out what looked to me like a Colt .45, cocked it — I can remember the loud click of it — and stuck it in my eye."

One of the rare times an incident was reported to police, Lennox said, was when two teenagers threw bags of vomit and feces at him.

"It went down my throat. It went up my sinuses. It went into my eyes … I became hysterical," he said.

Transit officials would not say how many calls for help are made by its drivers.

In April, city council's public safety committee asked administrators to come up with recommendations to improve transit driver protection.

Coun. Brian Mayes said Winnipeg Transit is doing the best it can with the money it has, adding that it's up to the city to decide if it will pay to have police officers on buses.

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