News Local

Bus driver barriers tested as assaults drop

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver



Assaults on transit operators are at their lowest level since 2007, according to TransLink, as it prepares to test additional barriers that physically separate bus drivers from passengers to deter attacks.

TransLink spokesman Chris Bryan said just 46 assaults were recorded in the first six months of 2016, about 18% fewer than the same period in 2015, which was also a record year for the lowest number of attacks.

After repeated calls from transit drivers on the need for action, the company has already been trialing four driver barriers to mixed criticism. Now, the company wants to install and test another two.

According to a TransLink board update to be delivered Friday by Coast Mountain Bus Company, one of the new barriers will come from New Flyer, and another from Arow Global — both were expected to arrive before the end of summer.

“We are pleased to see the numbers trending in a positive direction. That said, one assault is too many, and a safety barrier is one of a number of tools we are exploring to prevent or minimize acts of violence directed at transit operators,” the company said in a statement.

“Soon, a fifth bus barrier will be rolled out on a bus out of our Richmond Transit Centre. It is the first bus to receive a barrier model from Arow Global (previous safety barriers were made by Bentech). The Arow model offers a sliding top portion, giving operators greater flexibility.”

Steve Sutherland, president of Unifor 111, which represents bus drivers, said although the numbers are positive, drivers don’t generally believe the barriers offer more protection.

“The barriers, the ones we’ve seen so far, are inadequate to say the least. They’re not very protective and they glare ... there are issues of getting out of the bus if something does happen,” Sutherland said.

However, he credited legislation passed in Parliament last year that determined an assault on any public transit operator would be take more seriously by the courts as “an aggravating” factor in sentencing, as behind at least some of the drop.

Transit Police, in their annual community report said it has been working closely with bus operators and supervisors to examine “root causes” of violence.

“Although this reduction is welcome, more work still needs to be done,” the police said.