Latest assault of OC bus driver prompts call for protective shields

The latest assault against a city bus driver is a “call to action” for OC Transpo to strengthen security and prevent more violence by installing protective screens, says a crime prevention expert.

“If you want to stop assaults against bus drivers on the bus, the only way to do it is to physically separate or offer some level of protection physically from the potential culprit to the driver,” said David Hyde, a Toronto-based consultant.

“The research shows again and again that cameras are not a proven prevention tool of crime on buses.”

A “spare” Transpo driver — running about 15 minutes behind schedule — had his nose broken by a passenger while driving Route 99 on July 26.

“Research tells us that “the bus being late” is a common catalyst for violence and threats against drivers,” said Hyde.

“Also, this was a relief driver who may not have been familiar with the route (or) regular riders. This was also a late run (10:45 p.m.) where the risk of violence is higher.”

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 vice-president Sharon Bow disputes the notion of assaults taking place after sunset.

“I drive late at night,” Bow said.

Assaults can happen during the day. “There’s no specific time,” she said.

“People seem to think that it happens all the time at night. But reality is, studies have shown that these sorts of things can happen at 8 a.m.”

When asked about shields protecting drivers, “I don’t have any comment on that,” said Bow.

Transpo GM John Manconi, though, said he’s brought up shields with drivers and received a range of opinions.

“I’m not a fan of the shields,” Manconi said.

“I’ve heard enough from frontline operators to convince me that if you had to look at solutions, that’s not the way to go.”

Manconi said he “can’t imagine” driving for long periods encased in plexiglass.

“Also, what does it tell your customers?,” he asked.

“I’ve boarded a bus where there was a shield and intuitively, I just felt like, ‘OK is there something wrong with this — is it an unsafe service’?”

Hyde said he’s heard these arguments “and every transit authority that’s ended up installing these shields has gone through the same,” he said.

Shields not only prevent punches from being landed, “it’s more to deter and stop people from spitting at the driver,” Hyde said.

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