Attack on Edmonton bus driver prompts calls for prepaid fares

EDMONTON – The cost to ride a bus in Edmonton is $3.20. Getting some passengers to pay that, though, can be a hazardous part of the job for drivers.

Just this week a bus driver was punched in the face and had to get stitches after asking someone for payment. According to the Edmonton Amalgamated Transit Union, that’s what roughly 80 per cent of operator-passenger conflicts stem from.

“The instruction from the employer, from the city is to: ‘Let it go. Tell them to pay double next time.’ Sometimes it escalates, emotions get involved,” said Steve Bradshaw of the Local 569 union.

In 2009, the vicious attack on bus driver Tom Bregg put the need for better bus security into  the spotlight. Bregg was dragged from behind the wheel and beaten so badly that he spent 16 days in intensive care.

That same month, another bus driver was pepper-sprayed. Both cases originated as disputes over bus fare.

Ron Gabruck, the director of safety and security for ETS, believes assaults on bus drivers are a problem throughout North America. But in Edmonton specifically, where ETS ridership is about 88 million people a year, they have climbed to about 30 a year.

“I would say somewhere in the neighbourhood of 95 to 98 per cent of our assaults involve some form of a push, shove, perhaps a kick, and – as disgusting as it sounds-  a lot of spitting.”

Bus driver Rod Evans has luckily never had to experience anything like that. He says his daily interaction with people is what he loves most about his job.

“After 25 years on the job, you’re going to meet all kinds of characters,” he said, though.

Evans credits his ability to read people and handle situations well for helping him avoid trouble.

“The City has given us courses on this, to deal with situations. And they’re good courses, I’ve taken them, and if they give us any more courses I’ll be taking them again. There’ll be no question about that.”

ETS policy states drivers cannot kick someone off the bus for not paying the fare. Instead, they’re told to call security when a problem arises.

The union, however, would like to see more measures in place to protect drivers before they’re faced with a dangerous situation.

“We have a great security section, they do a great job for us, but they can’t stop the problem,” said Bradshaw. “They track it down after the fact…They can’t stop it.”

The union is pushing for a pre-pay system, similar to what is in place on the LRT.

“No interaction between the driver and passenger about fares whatsoever. That’s what we’d like to see here.”

The union plans on heading to Ottawa next month to lobby the government for stiffer penalties for those who assault a transit driver.

Cameras are also being installed on every bus. Surveillance video is what helped officials identify the suspect in this week’s assault; a peace officer happened to recognize the individual after previously ticketing him for jaywalking.

“Of the assaults investigated this year we have identified suspects in 82 per cent of the assault files,” said Gabruck.

“So we’ll get you.”

With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News

© 2014 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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