Gillingham rides bus to work, wants to make transit safe

AMID serious concerns about violence on city buses, Mayor Scott Gillingham took a Winnipeg Transit ride to city hall Wednesday and vowed to keep doing so “from time to time” to help guide his efforts to make the service safer.

“I want to see Winnipeggers confident in the transit system... It was very intentional (that) I got on a bus this morning and came to city hall on a transit bus. I’m making decisions on transit, so I think it’s important that I ride from time to time,” said Gillingham. “We want transit to be a safe option for people and (for) people to have confidence when they get on a bus.”

The mayor’s decision to take the bus, and his commitment to do so in the future, came a day after the union representing Winnipeg Transit workers pleaded with the city and province to tackle what it called a “safety crisis.”

On Tuesday, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Romeo Ignacio made note of multiple dangerous incidents on buses and at transit stops earlier this month, including sexual assault at knifepoint and two violent robberies. In another incident, a driver climbed out of his vehicle’s window to escape a threatening passenger.

In all, ATU has recorded 107 assaults against bus drivers this year so far, including verbal threats, spitting, punching and attacks with a weapon.

Gillingham said he supports the union’s longtime request for a transit security force to make buses safer, which he expects would be staffed by some form of peace officer — not police — pending provincial approval of the change. He said discussions with the province have yet to determine the exact requirements for such a security force, how much it would cost or how many employees it would require.

“Ultimately, the goal is to make the transit system a safer system and make sure that the people of Winnipeg who choose transit… have the confidence to get on our transit system,” he said.

Coun. Janice Lukes, the head of council’s public works committee, said she rides the Southwest Transitway from her ward to city hall often and believes there’s a need to expand that “dream” level of service to other parts of the city. “(The) southwest rapid transit corridor is amazing, and this is why I’m hoping we can advance the transit plan… because other parts of the city need this,” Lukes said.

Lukes (Waverley West) said the city should pinpoint routes with the highest number of safety issues as a first step to address the concerns.

Meanwhile, council voted Wednesday to approve Gillingham’s membership on the Winnipeg Police Board. That included passing a bylaw amendment to let the mayor sit as a member of the board, while not serving as chair.

As a result, Gillingham will replace Coun. Ross Eadie on the board. Coun. Markus Chambers continues to serve as chairman.

Eadie said he was initially ready to fight the change but opted to support it after Gillingham told him the board will include an inner-city voice among its members.

“I am assured that there will be an inner-city representation, perspective, experience, advice and voting,” he said.

Gillingham told media he will ensure citizen members that the mayor appoints to the board reflect that promise.

“I believe one of the board members needs to be someone who understands and represents the inner city and the North End, so that will be important to me as I make a decision as mayor (on whom) to appoint,” he said. Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga