Jan 30, 2007

Late-night buses are back

After more than a year's hiatus, Guelph Transit is bringing back its late-night university routes with improved security.

But the transit union wants to be "absolutely sure" security cameras and tracking systems being installed on city buses are working.

"This service wouldn't be back on the road if we didn't have those cameras," said Stephen MacNeil, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189. "Our first priority is that our drivers have to be safe.

"We want to go to work and we want to come home the same way we went to work."

The late-night service for the University of Guelph is scheduled to return in the final week of February.

It will involve two shuttles that go directly from the downtown core to the campus between midnight and 4 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Another bus will pick students up at the Greyhound and Via Rail stations on Sunday nights to take them back to the university and nearby neighbourhoods.

There will also be a late-night route to take students home from the university from Tuesday to Saturday.

All of the routes were suspended shortly after a bus driver was beaten in the early hours of Oct. 30, 2005. The victim was driving the late-night shuttle that goes from the downtown core to the University of Guelph's campus.

After the driver refused a bribe from a passenger to stray from his route, the passenger punched him six times in the face and head. The passenger, Derek McPhee, 25, fled from the bus but pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm in court last June.

In September, he was sentenced to 60 days in jail, to be served on weekends.

The attack is one of several incidents in recent years in which drivers have been beaten, threatened or spat on.

McPhee wasn't a student and MacNeil said the problems haven't been specifically related to students. But the incident was a sign that more security would be needed for all buses, including those on late-night routes.

MacNeil said the union has been working with Guelph Transit for more than a year to develop security protocols and other measures to keep drivers and passengers safe.

"The last piece of the puzzle is the cameras."

By the end of this month, every city bus will have up to eight cameras and a hard drive to store images. He said buses will also have a tracking system so their locations are known at all times.

MacNeil said the cameras shouldn't spark any privacy concerns because the images will only be looked at if there is an incident.

"It's not like people are being viewed and people are on the other end watching," he said. "The cameras are in there for everybody's security, not just the drivers'. This is for safety and that's it."

Mayor Karen Farbridge said the city wants to mitigate the risks as much as possible, but getting the service back on the road is important.

She said the late-night shuttle will help students, clear congestion and prevent disputes that can develop in the core when a lot of frustrated people are trying to get home.

"A lot of the students just come down and have a good time and they want to get home," Farbridge said. "The quicker we get people home, the better it is for everybody."

The Central Student Association at the University of Guelph is excited about the late-night service coming back. Local affairs commissioner Bre Walt said the association contracted a bus company to provide similar transportation after Guelph Transit said it would no longer run the buses, but it hasn't been as successful.

"Students recognize a city bus more than a school bus," she said.

Walt said there wasn't any resentment from students when the city canceled its late-night routes. She said most people understand there was a need for better security.

"There are a lot of students on this campus and it's a real relief to me to know they have a safe way home."

My comment: Did you notice that no one mentions the lack of a police presents on the streets. In Durham Region the level of crime is not acceptible. At budget time the regional councilors are always cutting back on the police budget.

Thanks to the Guelp Mercury and reporter Brian Whirwham for this report.

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