By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
Cathy Wong (61), who emigrated from Hong Kong, had an unpleasant experience last December, with a racist bus driver.
The incident came on the eve of an unprecedented bus fare increase for services that have been deteriorating over the last two years.
Wong lives way down Pembina Highway in Winnipeg, just before the Ring Road, and takes two buses to work — the 162 and the 15 — in that order.
She works in a hotel near the Richardson International Airport. On December 13 afternoon, Wong took the Number 162 as usual to Portage Place, where she alighted to transfer to a Number 15. The driver of the 162 stopped to get coffee from Tim Hortons; he took the wrong route after that, delaying the bus while he got back on the right track.
The 15 arrived late too. When she entered, its middle-aged, male, white driver pointed out that her transfer had expired ten minutes ago. Wong was willing to pay afresh, reaching for her purse, but changed her mind because the driver was unpleasant. He seemed to accept her explanation grudgingly, allowing her to board the bus.
“He didn’t kick me out,” she told New Canadian Media: “As the (on-board) camera may show.”
When the time came for her to get off at her place of work, there were only two passengers left in the bus: herself and a colleague. The colleague got out the back door while Wong went to the front door.
The driver refused to open the door for her, saying he was punishing Wong for not paying the fare. He stopped after driving on for about two minutes saying, “Go back to your country,” as she got off.
The animosity of his parting shot is a toxic memory for the slight, quiet woman. Wong fears encountering the same driver again because he may start playing micro-aggressive games with her, as bus drivers are known to do.
Wong, who does not know English well despite her 32 years in this country, called 311 to report the incident, and Winnipeg Transit investigated the matter. She took off from work until the New Year.
Wong says graciously , “I think about it for long time, who wrong and right. I don’t want he to get more pressure. In my life I make a lot of bad things, but some of my friends forgive me. I let this gone, and stay away. Please don’t call Transit Company.[sic]”
She informed in an e-mail on January 13 “Last week Transit call me . and I told them about the bus # 162 got lost from its original route , and ...everything . The Transit Said ‘ sorry’ to me.[sic]”
Ross Eadie, a Winnipeg Councillor who takes the bus regularly said, “No driver should be making racist comments, and I’m seriously disappointed in this remark. It was a vicious incident on two counts: apart from the racist comment, it must have been cold and windy to walk extra. I missed a stop a few times, and didn’t like walking back in freezing temperatures.
“Racism exists in our population, and buses reflect what’s going on in society. Once I saw a sick young Aboriginal slumped in a bus. Everyone assumed he was drunk. I went to him and asked what the matter was. I was able to coax a few words out of him in time: ‘I want to die.’ He turned out to be a diabetic refugee from a flooded area of Manitoba with nowhere to go at the time. The driver demurred that he was already running late when I suggested he call for an ambulance . . .”
Matt Allard, another Councillor, takes the bus regularly to acquaint himself with Winnipeg Transit’s issues, but did not respond to e-mail or voice mail queries.
Alissa Clark, Manager of Communications, Winnipeg Transit, says, “The safety and security of its passengers is of the utmost importance to Winnipeg Transit. It is also very important that our passengers feel welcome and respected. While we are unable to comment on the specifics of the incident you’re referring to because it is an HR matter, we would like to say that we spoke with Ms. Wong in early January to offer our apologies. All operators participate in extensive, ongoing customer service training which involves segments on respecting diversity.”
Early this month, City officials revealed an $8.7 million surplus, though they said they had no choice but to hike bus fares $0.25 a ride in January. The ticket prices usually rise $0.05 annually. This jump has caused low-income people even more hardship.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. As a journalist, he has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.