Winnipeggers don't feel safe on transit buses at night and want the city to assign police to patrol the service on a permanent basis, a new poll suggests.
Probe Research, in consultation with the Amalgamated Transit Union, said 64 per cent of Winnipeg residents polled want a dedicated police force to monitor the safety of buses and transit stops — with both frequent riders and those who rarely take the bus calling for more security.
The poll was conducted on the phone with a random sample of 600 adult Winnipeg residents from March 13 to 28, roughly one month after a Winnipeg Transit driver was killed on the job.
Irvine Jubal Fraser, 58, was stabbed to death after completing his route on Valentine's Day at the University of Manitoba. A passenger on his bus was charged with second-degree murder.
While the driver's death shocked the city, John Callahan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, said it did not put a stop to criminal behaviour on buses.
"We've had numerous assaults since the Jubal incident," he said.
Last week, a driver on Graham Avenue had to call police after a armed passenger got on a bus, Callahan said.
"Gets on, doesn't pay a fare, drops his Slurpee, bends down to pick up his Slurpee and he's got a machete hanging from his belt ... armed and ready to roll."
Mayor open to new ideas
Most major cities in Canada have a dedicated police force to monitor transit safety, Callahan said, and he's pleased Winnipeggers support the idea here.
"That is something we kind of knew anecdotally. It's good to have real numbers now," he said.
In a written statement, Brian Bowman's office said the mayor is open to any ideas that increase safety for transit drivers and users.
For now, he is waiting for a report from Winnipeg Transit on current safety protocols to the public works committee, expected in about a month from now, before weighing in further.
"It would be premature to discuss and consider any specific safety measures before that report is published," said a written statement from Bowman's office.
The city said Winnipeg Transit's report will also include ideas on ways to make buses safer.
Most riders feel safe, except at night
While the vast majority of regular Winnipeg Transit users, 93 per cent, said they feel safe riding the bus, only 28 per cent of frequent riders said they feel very safe riding the bus at night, Probe said.
A person can say with 95 per cent certainty the survey results are within +/–4 percentage points of what the results would have been if the entire adult population of Winnipeg was interviewed, Probe said.
The poll results do not surprise Callahan, who said the serious incidents often happen after sundown.
The union president believes dedicated transit police would both improve safety on buses at night and prevent a potential spike in crime after the city expands its rapid transit network.
"Crime seems to migrate towards transit stations.... I think it makes sense to get a jump on it," he said.
As far as who would pay for a dedicated team of police officers, Callahan believes a crackdown on fare evasion will balance out additional personnel costs.
"Fare evasion is costing millions of dollars every year and hopefully they would put a stop to that," he said. "That lost revenue would actually pay for the police."
In the last year, all assailants accused of assault on buses also evaded paying their fare, Callahan added.