There’s a sense of “lawlessness” aboard buses in Metro Vancouver that will require a “culture shift” to fix, said a director of the bus drivers union in relation to a spate of violent incidents on transit in B.C. and beyond.
Gavin McGarrigle, the western regional director for Unifor, said there’s been an increase in violent incidents in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic in Metro Vancouver and other transit systems across Canada.
McGarrigle said in an interview on Thursday that the culture shift would require a more visible, consistent presence of transit police and security personnel on board buses, not just at hubs.
His comments come after the stabbing death of a 17-year-old on a Surrey bus on Tuesday, a shooting on a Calgary bus on Wednesday where a man was injured, and numerous violent incidents on transit in Edmonton and Toronto in recent weeks.
McGarrigle said it was “infuriating” to hear Metro Vancouver Transit Police saying this week they cover 1,800 kilometres square, so enforcement must be targeted.
The region’s public transit system is “the backbone of our economy and saying you don’t have enough resources to make sure the passengers and the workers feel safe is like saying you’re putting buses on the road with no tires,” he said.
The lack of security has created a sense that buses are “almost like a lawless environment,” McGarrigle said.
Metro Vancouver Transit Police say officers are deployed throughout the system based on intelligence reports and crime statistics.
“That generally keeps us close to SkyTrain,” the service says on its website, referring to the region’s train service. “However, Transit Police respond to incidents on all modes of transit, and we work in partnership with Transit Security who focus on keeping bus and SeaBus safe.”
Premier David Eby said Thursday that police have stepped up their patrols on buses and trains after the 17-year-old male was killed this week.
The teenager’s death is every parent’s nightmare, he said.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth is reaching out to transit authorities and police to see if more resources are needed to ensure safety, Eby said.
The teen’s death was “horrific,” said McGarrigle, who’s concerned that any increased security presence, specifically aboard buses, will fade away again.
“Our members are traumatized, the passengers are affected, and this overall feeling of an unsafe system is really counter to what all levels of government have been trying to do in Vancouver in building that world-class system,” McGarrigle said.
With transit ridership recovering from the pandemic and expanded bus service planned for the region, he said the union wants safety concerns addressed head on.
The death was the second serious stabbing in two weeks aboard a bus in Surrey, although the first victim, whose throat was slashed on April 1, is now recovering at home.
The suspect in the attack on the teenager has not yet been arrested and Eby encouraged anyone with information or dashcam footage to come forward.
“This is a profoundly concerning incident,” he said.
“It is absolutely vital that people be able to get to work, school and to do fun things around the community on transit and not have concerns about their safety when doing so. That’s a goal that we have and that’s something that all British Columbians deserve.”
Eby made the remarks at a Vancouver elementary school during a separate announcement that 60 schools in the province will be seismically upgraded.