The City of Winnipeg plans to test shatterproof glass in bus shelters in an effort to curb vandalism as it struggles to keep up with repairs.
Impact-resistant glass will be installed in at least one location in the city in the coming months, public works committee chair Janice Lukes said.
“It’s an incredible, durable material, but it’s two to three times the cost, so we’re going to have to be really strategic … if we proceed with that,” she said.
The location of the bus shelter or shelters that will be part of the pilot will not be released publicly, Lukes said.
“We don’t want someone driving a vehicle through it to see if it breaks,” she said.
The city has seen an increase in the number of its bus shelters — out of around 880 total in Winnipeg — impacted by broken glass in recent years.
In 2021, there were 267 shelters impacted by broken glass, compared to 361 the following year. As of Nov. 3, there have been 294 in 2023, of which 115 were still missing glass.
A significant portion of those are concentrated along Main Street. On Sunday, a CBC News reporter and camera operator counted 23 shelters with broken glass along the stretch between St. Mary Avenue and Burrin Street.
Kimberley Chastellaine waited to catch a bus at Main Street and Redwood Avenue to deliver lunch to her parents. Every pane of glass on the shelter there was missing.
“I don’t feel safe at all, especially at night time,” Chastellaine said, adding that she doesn’t feel comfortable letting any of her five children ride the bus at the same time.
Chastellaine has lived in the area all her life, and says the problem of broken bus shelters is a recent phenomenon.
“No one likes to come down this way, especially when everything’s broken,” she said.
Unlike last year, the city is no longer facing a shortage of glass, a city spokpesperson said in an email.
“But while our supplier is fulfilling orders in a more timely fashion than before, we continue to experience a high volume of vandalism that is contributing to our backlog of shelters in need of repair, as well as other causes, including graffiti and motor vehicle incidents,” the spokesperson said.
Annual spending on shelter repairs has averaged around $250,000 in recent years, Lukes said.
Homeless outreach efforts
The city has not done any analysis to determine why shelters are being broken, but it isn’t limited to one area of the city, Lukes said.
“I think it is reflective of society, the frustration in society people have,” she said.
“There’s a lot of anger, but we’re getting broken bus shelters down Pembina Highway, so it’s really hard to … pinpoint why, when it’s actually happening all over the city.”
The increase in the number of vandalized bus shelters has coincided with a rising number of homeless people using them as places to sleep, Lukes said.
The city has made a number of changes this year, including spending $1 million this year to expand 24/7 safe spaces, more money for homeless shelters, an emergency weather response plan and a new outreach strategy to link people in bus shelters with supports.
“I’m hoping that this winter we see a real change in the activity in our bus shelters and then it goes back to people waiting for transit in the bus shelters,” she said.
Despite those efforts, transit shelters observed by St. Boniface Street Links outreach crews have seen the number of people sleeping in them increased threefold compared to this time last year, Street Links executive director Marion Willis said.
“There is no other option if you are east of the Red River, there’s absolutely no infrastructure to support homelessness,” Willis said, noting that her organization has a temporary agreement with the city to operate a 24/7 safe space in 604 St. Mary’s Rd. starting Dec. 1.
Winnipeg Transit does not track the locations of people sleeping in bus shelters, but said most of the calls are concentrated in places like the Downtown Sports, Hospitality, and Entertainment District (SHED), Polo Park, Kildonan Place Shopping Centre and Harkness Station.