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Halifax transit union says assaults against drivers are on the rise

The president of Halifax’s transit union says assaults against transit operators are increasing and is calling for security measures to be fast-tracked to stop it.

“Since the start of November from last year, I think I’ve recorded 28 serious assaults or threats to life,” said Shane O’Leary, the president of ATU 508.

The latest incident took place on Thursday night.

“An operator had a young person jump on his bus, pull open his flimsy shield and punch him in the face numerous times,” said O’Leary.

It happened the same day that Halifax Regional Police said it was investigating an assault against a bus driver that occurred last week.

Police said on May 19 that Halifax Transit staff asked a group causing a disturbance to get off a bus at the Halifax Transit bridge terminal. According to police, two teens from the group ran ahead to the next stop and hopped back on the bus as other passengers exited from the back.

Police said the two passengers assaulted the driver.

“Punched the driver numerous times and that operator ended up in the hospital for most of that evening,” said O’Leary.

Police are now looking for two teenagers. HRP said a Black male youth in his late teens had short dreadlocks and was wearing a white sweater, blue jeans, sunglasses and a medical mask.

The second suspect is described as a Black teenage girl wearing a black top and pink leggings.

Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Cst. John Macleod confirmed calls for service at transit terminals are up.

“This is relative to what we’re seeing with a lot of crimes across the board,” said Macleod.

The transit union said a third bus driver was assaulted earlier this week. Police said they did charge a 29-year-old man in relation to an assault on a transit driver earlier this week on Mumford Road.

Currently, drivers are shielded from passengers by plexiglass installed during the pandemic to protect them from COVID-19.

The union calls the shield flimsy and wants a heavy-duty safety barrier to protect operators from aggressive passengers and members of the public.

“Later this year, we’ll be installing new operator safety barriers on all of our buses and all of our electric buses will also have safety barriers when they arrive,” said Maggie-Jane Spray, an HRM Public Affairs Advisor.

The city is also hiring four new transit supervisors but the union wants to a new bylaw brought in to grant supervisors more power.

“We need supervisors out there that can actually remove people from buses and have the authority to do so under this bylaw. And charge people. People need be fined, charged,” said O’Leary.

Spray said the city will be bringing forward a new bylaw later this summer that will help address some of those issues.

“Including exploring new tools that we’ll be able to use for enforcement,” said Spray.

“It’s a slow-moving process and every day we wait for these things to happen is a risk to the life of not only an operator but it’s a risk to the life of a pedestrian that’s around when a bus driver gets attacked behind the wheel,” said O’Leary. Top Stories

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