Saskatoon Transit tests full safety shield to better protect drivers

Saskatoon Transit tests full safety shield to better protect drivers | CBC News

There have been 28 assaults on transit drivers since 2017, according to a report to city council

Saskatoon Transit has installed the first safety shield in one of its buses in a bid to better protect its drivers.

"Saskatoon is seeing an increase in sort of aggravated conversations, in particular during the sort of the things that go on in the COVID time space," said Transit director Jim McDonald. "So we're getting people that are a little bit more aggravated and they're not giving the benefit of the doubt before they start yelling and screaming at people.

"This is just another method to try and keep our staff safe."

Earlier this year the city's transportation committee received a report saying there had been 130 negative interactions with passengers in 2020, up from 76 negative interactions in 2019. The behaviour ranged from assault to harassment to fare disputes.

Last December, Saskatoon city council agreed to spend $500,000 to install safety barriers on some city buses.

The city estimates outfitting its entire fleet of buses with permanent safety barriers would cost between $980,000 and $2.8 million dollars.

According to a report, there have been 28 assaults on transit drivers since 2017.

McDonald said transit agencies throughout North America are installing permanent security barriers for safety reasons.

He said the shield chosen by Saskatoon Transit is made by New Flyer International and is basically a door that gets added to the operator compartment. 

"It's made out of glass and metal, and it seals the operator off with an openable window so that they can actually have a conversation with the public," McDonald said. "If they're not necessarily feeling comfortable, they can put that window up."

Over the next eight to nine month the shields will be installed in 43 buses.

"That is about one third of the number that we will need," McDonald said.

McDonald said the jury is still out on whether the shield will give drivers any added protection against COVID-19.

"But they provide almost the same kind of coverage that our current vinyl barriers do, I'm told.... And we're going to be walking through that with our occupational health and safety."

McDonald said specific routes will not be targeted with having the new barriers on those buses.

"We'll only do that on an evidence-based format because some of our buses are on all day and they go on various different routes. So in some instances, it doesn't necessarily make sense to do that."

After the barriers are installed, council will review Saskatoon Transit's findings and create a funding strategy before the 2022 budget deliberations.

With files from Saskatoon Morning and David Shield