Concerns about bus safety in the Central Okanagan are being raised again, following an assault on a driver.
“One of our female bus drivers was assaulted on Monday during the family day statutory holiday while she was driving the bus,” said Scott Lovell, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722.
The situation started on an express Highway 97 bus, when passengers were boarding. A young man walked by, and the driver didn’t see his bus pass so she asked him to show it and that seemed to agitate him.
“A couple minutes go by, and the guy still didn’t show anything … then he said ‘l’m going to punch you,’ and he punches her in the head while she’s driving the bus, with passengers on it,” said Lovell.
“Somehow she managed to pull the bus over safely and then he reached across her, stepped on her and crawled out her window. She has the boot print on her to prove it.”
The alleged attacker has yet to be apprehended and police are asking for witnesses.
Lovell said it’s a traumatic situation, not just for the driver but also all the passengers who were careening along at highway speed when violence erupted.
“I am stunned and so proud of her that she was able to carry herself and the bus after being cold-cocked in the head,” he said. “Can you imagine what would have happened if he’d knocked her out?”
Evidence of the act have been caught on one of the bus’s cameras, but Lovell isn’t sure as of yet if anything will come of it.
What is clear to him, however, is that transit drivers and their passengers are vulnerable. With the killing of a Winnipeg bus driver on Tuesday at top of mind, Lovell is particularly concerned.
“These assaults are not stopping,” he said. “How many bus drivers need to be killed before you change things for drivers?”
What would go a long way to making buses safer, he said, is the installation of shields, which cost $5,000 a piece.
In June 2016, the Premier, other members of government and BC Transit held a press conference announcing an infusion of funds for transit, some of which was dedicated to cameras, which have since been put in place.
During that announcement plans to install driver shields on a temporary basis were also offered.
“BC Transit said they would have the shields in September or October and a training program on how to better communicate with marginalized people in society,” Lovell said.
“That program changed and no shields have been installed to test yet.”
Lovell is currently in Toronto at a transit conference, and said speaking to drivers there has been eye-opening.
“They have shields and the drivers I’ve spoken to have said they wouldn’t get behind the wheel without it.”
On Tuesday, Winnipeg bus driver Irvine Fraser pulled up to the last stop of his shift on Tuesday, went to wake a sleeper at the back and things went awry.
Fraser, who went by his middle name, Jubal, was attacked and killed by the lone passenger just before 2 a.m., outside the bus.
Fraser, 58, was stabbed just outside his vehicle and died.
“He was just doing his job,” said Lovell.
The local incident happened at Highway 97 South and Hudson Road bus exchange.
The suspect was described to police as a young aboriginal male, with dark hair and poor complexion. He was seen wearing a dark hoodie, dark shorts, white runners and carrying a large backpack with other smaller bags attached to it.
“Investigators will be conducting a review of the bus’ on board video surveillance cameras for any evidence to further their ongoing investigation,” adds said Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey.
Anyone with any information is asked to contact the West Kelowna RCMP at 250-768-2800. Or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, leaving a tip online at www.crimestoppers.net or by texting your tip to CRIMES (274637) ktown.