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Bus drivers call for safety improvements outside Winnipeg city hall

Last Updated Feb 17, 2017 at 3:00 pm EDT

Winnipeg bus drivers close down Portage and Main after gathering to support each other at a rally for Irvine Fraser, who was killed by a passenger, and to demand safety improvements on buses outside city hall in Winnipeg, Friday, February 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG – Hundreds of transit workers rallied outside Winnipeg city hall Friday to demand safety improvements following the killing of one of their colleagues.

“This is not a new issue,” John Callahan, president of the bus drivers’ union local, told the crowd. “We’ve been talking about this for the past three years.

“Time and time again — assault after assault after assault. What have we gotten? Lip service.”

The transit workers also marched to the middle of the city’s busiest intersection at Portage Ave. and Main St. and formed a large square. Some carried signs that read “One life is too many.”

The rally came three days after Irvine Jubal Fraser, 58, was stabbed to death at the end of his late-night route. Police said Fraser repeatedly told a passenger to get off the bus because it was the end of the line, and the passenger attacked him.

Brian Kyle Thomas, 22, has been charged with second-degree murder.

Fraser’s brother, Dean, fought back tears as he told the crowd Fraser loved driving buses.

“He was taken from us doing what he loved,” he said.

“You couldn’t see Jubal without a smile on his face and I’m sure he’s smiling down on you guys right now for your support.”

Fraser’s widow was hugged and comforted by many in the crowd. She did not speak at the rally.

Fraser’s death is the first time a Winnipeg transit driver was fatally assaulted on the job. City officials have beefed up security measures in recent years by installing cameras on buses and having police ride some routes on occasion.

But the Amalgamated Transit Union is calling for more, including emergency exit doors for drivers and a dedicated transit security force.

It also wants pop-up shields that can separate drivers from dangerous passengers.

“All this exists in Europe,” Callahan said.

“There are shields that are retractable — that you hit the button, it ejects the shield.”

The union also wants bus drivers to be relieved of the task of collecting fares. Most altercations stem from a dispute over fares, Callahan said, and in many other cities transit inspectors are used to ask passengers for proof of payment.

Matt Allard, a city councillor, said Friday he was open to new security measures.

“I’m convinced that we need to do more,” he said.

Statistics released by the union show there were 60 assaults on Winnipeg transit drivers in 2015, a jump of 54 per cent from the previous year.

The number went down to 45 assaults in 2016. Callahan said that’s partly due to undercover officers who started riding buses that year and intervened in some disputes.