WINNIPEG â€” An incident where police say passengers on a Winnipeg bus disarmed a man with an axe and brass knuckles has intensified calls for transit safety in the city.
There has been concern about safety on Winnipeg buses since last month’s fatal stabbing of a city bus driver.
Police say passengers on Friday night took the items away from the 22-year-old man without incident and that they and the driver then escorted the man off the bus.
He was arrested a short time later on the sidewalk.
John Callahan with the union that represents transit drivers says the incident shows there isn’t time to wait months for the results of a safety review ordered after driver Irvine Jubal Fraser was killed Feb. 14 when he tried to get a passenger off his bus.
Dave Wardrop, Winnipeg’s chief transportation officer, said earlier this week the department doesn’t have the staff to make a significant change at this point.
Callahan has been calling for fare inspection to be taken out of the hands of drivers, noting that two thirds of driver assaults are over unpaid fares.
“These types of incidents have been ongoing, but obviously now people are paying a lot more attention, including our operators,” said Callahan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.
“I say there’s things that we can do in the interim that can be addressed a lot more quickly.”
Const. Rob Carver, a police spokesman, said Friday’s incident never became violent. He said the man never brandished the axe, and while it appears he was wearing the brass knuckles, the passengers were still able to get them from him without a fight or a struggle.
The man faces two charges of possession of a weapon and two charges of breaching a recognizance.
“In one sense it was a fairly low key thing, these passengers see something that’s disturbing, they kind of step up and the bus drivers get this guy off the bus,” Carver said.
“The more concerning part is we had a tragedy involving a bus operator some weeks back, and certainly the focus has been on transit safety for the last little while.”
Fraser was at the end of his route at the University of Manitoba at around 2 a.m. and was trying to get a sleeping passenger to leave when he was killed.
A suspect, Brian Kyle Thomas, 22, has been charged with second-degree murder, possession of a weapon and breach of probation.
The report from the safety investigation prompted by Fraser’s death isn’t due for three months.
Wardrop said bureaucrats will try to have the report done as quickly as possible. Options such as shields for drivers are not being ruled out but would require more study, he said, while another idea is to move more supervisors onto evening shifts to help with disputes.
Callahan noted the city has added mobile inspectors at night but needs to add more of them. He has also said that dedicated transit police could mediate disputes.
He said drivers are sympathetic to riders who cannot afford to pay, but says some repeat offenders are abusing the system.
“We’re getting people who are not paying fares, drinking on the bus. It’s a party on wheels,” he said. “Right now, you can’t keep up with it. There’s no consequence.”
The Canadian Press