Union demands safety shields after Edmonton bus driver badly beaten

A transit union spokesman says the savage beating of a driver proves safety shields are needed in buses.

EDMONTON — A transit union spokesman says the savage beating of a driver proves safety shields are needed in buses.

“We would like to see transit shields in, if not all buses, most buses — certainly the different hot spots,” said Stu Litwinowich, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569.

“If that shield was in place, he would have had extra time to call the control centre. The shields are designed to withstand some punishment.”

A 58-year-old Edmonton driver is in hospital recovering from an attack by a passenger who pulled him from his seat and kicked him repeatedly in the face when he became wedged between the bus and the curb.

Gary Edwin Mattson, 24, has been charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and assaulting a peace officer.

Litwinowich said there have been 66 assaults on transit employees so far this year. He said Thursday’s attack on a veteran driver of 33 years, whom he called “gentle as a lamb,” was the worst in several years.

The federal government should amend the Criminal Code to make attacks on transit employees the same as those on peace officers, Litwinowich suggested. That would allow for stiffer penalties.

Ron Gabruck, director of safety and security for Edmonton Transit, said the city is still trying to find a good fit for safety shields. Three prototypes have all been sent back for modifications.

He pointed out a shield that could be left open by the driver may not have halted this attack. “This is an absolutely random act of violence. There is really nothing that could have prevented this.”

Gabruck also noted that transit crimes have dropped eight per cent in the last year.