Transit users in Waterloo region will notice new barriers between riders and bus drivers, as Grand River Transit (GRT) beings piloting several different styles of driver shields over the next three months.

The shields were part of the contract negotiations between Unifor, the union which represents bus operators and maintenance staff, and the Region of Waterloo last April. 

At the time, Local 4304 president Rick Lonergan said physical assaults on GRT buses are rare, but drivers wanted GRT to be proactive after escalating violence in other cities, including a Winnipeg bus driver who was stabbed to death in February, 2017. 

Eric Gillespie, director of transit services for Grand River Transit, told CBC News there have been 11 times over the past four years where operators were assaulted.

Even though the number is not high, Gillespie said GRT felt adding driver shields on buses is still a necessary precaution because the "consequences can be quite significant."

"The risk is that if an operator is assaulted and they lose the ability to control the vehicle, it puts our operator at risk, it puts the public at risk," he said.

3 Types of shields

As of Monday, eight GRT buses are equipped with the following types of driver shields:

  • Three with a sliding glass barrier.
  • Three with a sliding glass barrier with an extending slider.
  • Two with a fixed system barrier.

After the three-month pilot, Gillespie said GRT will evaluate which style of driver shield will be the best fit, using community and operator feedback on things like visibility, ventilation and the impact on communication between the driver and passenger.