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Bus drivers question 'instant' SkyTrain review

Bus driver Trevor Caston holds up a newspaper clipping with a story about a review being ordered into SkyTrain outages. He says transit workers
Bus driver Trevor Caston holds up a newspaper clipping with a story about a review being ordered into SkyTrain outages. He says transit workers' safety should get the same attention.
— image credit: Boaz Joseph / The Leader

Trevor Caston has been a transit operator for 19 years and used to enjoy talking to his passengers.

But now, in light of the hundreds of attacks on drivers – 58 on Lower Mainland workers in the past month alone – he's less comfortable engaging the public.

"I don't know what's coming through the door," Caston says.

He and fellow transit workers were at the Surrey courthouse Tuesday afternoon to attend the scheduled sentencing of Brandon Watterworth on charges including robbery and breach of recognizance in connection with a February incident where a bus driver was punched in Surrey and had his glasses stolen.

The case and other violent driver attacks of late have transit workers pushing for better protection.

"There's an instant independent review of SkyTrain outages and there's no instant review for us?" said Caston. "We're only employees, though."

On Monday, Gary McNeil, the retired former CEO of Toronto's GO Transit commuter rail and bus system, was named to thoroughly review TransLink's response plan for major service disruptions and identify improvements to prevent a recurrence or speed up system recovery.

"We need to take this seriously and determine what we need to learn from it and make the changes to get better," TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said.

Dozens of SkyTrain passengers forced open the doors and walked unescorted on elevated guideways during a five-hour shutdown July 21.

It was caused by a blown power breaker during upgrade work, while the previous July 17 incident was triggered by a computer control system failure.

The cost of the review hasn't been determined but McNeil is being paid $1,200 a day and Jarvis said additional technical expertise could be brought in if needed.

Transit workers, meanwhile, remain focused on their safety.

Caston said like many drivers, he used to be against the installation of clear plastic shields separating transit workers from the public. Now, however, he's changed his mind in the interest of protecting himself and the public.

Nathan Woods, president of Unifor local 111, representing transit workers, said the union is moving ahead with advocating for physical barriers. He said while half of drivers initially didn't want them due to air circulation, heat and glare issues, many of them have changed their minds as attacks become more prevalent and vicious.

Woods said a prototype shield will be tested on a handful of buses within three months or so.

Watterworth's sentencing was delayed pending new charges. His next court date is Sept. 4.

– with files from Jeff Nagel

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