Local union president says more security is still needed for workers and passengers

Local union president says more security is still needed for workers and passengers.

City issues call for last safety barriers for Saskatoon buses

The city is moving to finish installing protective barriers for drivers on Saskatoon buses.

“It couldn’t come any sooner,” said Darcy Pederson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615, which represents city transit workers.

Council approved a phased-in program in 2020 to install security barriers fitted with safety glass in all city buses, after years of pleas from the union over concerns about assaults against drivers. At that time, the cost to outfit the entire fleet was pegged at around $2.9 million. Drivers have also previously panned vinyl shields installed in response to COVID-19, suggesting these were of limited protective value and could obstruct sight lines.

“It’s a gratifying feeling,” Pederson said of finally having the last of the city’s buses set to be equipped with driver security doors. “It makes me feel good that our members are out there, that they’re safe, they’re being protected and city council’s looking out for them.”

The first phase of installations on 47 buses is almost complete. A request for quotations set to close at the end of the month is looking for a company to purchase and install barriers on the city’s remaining 79 buses.

A city spokeswoman said she couldn’t provide specifics, such as an updated cost estimate, while the bidding remains open.

Pederson suggested the barriers will likely be removable from older buses and re-installed in new ones as they’re brought into service, particularly if the city sticks with its current suppliers of vehicles. The city was unable to confirm whether this will be the case, again citing the open bidding process.

While the completion of the barrier project will wrap up a safety priority for the ATU, Pederson repeated a call for some sort of added security presence for Transit. He said this is needed to supplement the de-escalation training provided to drivers for dealing with unruly passengers or other potentially dangerous situations.

“I don’t want to call it ‘police.’ But ‘fare enforcement,’ or ‘security?’ I’m not sure what it would be called. Just somebody out there to patrol the buses, the downtown terminal and the area around there; it’s getting quite dangerous,” he said.

Ward 3 Coun. David Kirton earlier this year said he felt bus drivers weren’t getting enough support as they’ve too often found themselves bearing the brunt of homelessness, mental health and addictions crises that have exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He ended up withdrawing a motion put forward in July to have the city administration explore a transit security program for Saskatoon. At the time, several members of council said they weren’t comfortable discussing security options without first seeing a more thorough assessment of the issue of bus driver and passenger safety.

Council is expected to pick the issue up again at some point in the next few months, when city staff present a report with data on safety incidents on buses and at Saskatoon Transit facilities.

City issues call for last safety barriers for Saskatoon buses | The Star Phoenix