— Pamela Roth
Ben Williams is frustrated and angry.
Ever since he heard about the latest attack on a bus driver in Victoria last week, the president of Unifor Local 333 (the union representing bus drivers) has been trying to wrap his head around the incident, and why attacks on bus drivers are on the rise.
The latest attack unfolded around 1:30 p.m. last Friday when a male passenger asked to get off at a decommissioned bus stop at Kings Road and Douglas Street.
According to police, the driver told the passenger he would have to get off at the next stop. In response, the passenger attacked the driver while the bus was in motion.
The driver managed to pull the bus over at the intersection of Douglas and Bay streets, but the attack continued as other passengers got off the bus. The suspect eventually fled the scene when the driver got off the bus. He was quickly located and arrested by police, and now faces charges of assault causing bodily harm.
Williams has yet to speak to the driver, who was left with lacerations on his face and bruising on his sides. A driver himself, Williams called the incident completely unacceptable.
“The operators out there are just trying to carry out the course of their duties. People should be able to go to work without fear of being assaulted,” said Williams. “There’s definitely a heightened concern that the smallest little thing seems to set people off.”
When Williams began his career 16 years ago, there was maybe one to six reports a year of drivers being spit on by unruly passengers. Now, he said it’s not uncommon to have drivers spat on three or four times during a weekend. Verbal altercations are also now happening on a daily basis, and Williams isn’t sure why.
“People wouldn’t walk into a bank and if they don’t like what they hear, they spit into a teller’s face,” he said. “I’m not sure why they feel that way about a transit operator.”
So far this year, B.C. Transit has recorded 24 assaults on bus drivers in the Greater Victoria area. Last year, there were 36 reports.
In response to the problem, five protective barriers made out of special glass are set to arrive in Victoria next month and be installed as part of a pilot project. One barrier was installed at the beginning of the year, but the union decided it didn’t provide the level of protection drivers were looking for so products from other manufacturers were explored.
At first, Williams said drivers were reluctant about the barriers, but now they are viewing them as a solution.
“A lot of these confrontations are happening on a daily basis and they are starting to escalate to this level,” said Williams, who sought input from a similar pilot project being conducted in Brampton, Ontario.
“More and more transit systems are starting to look at this. It’s unfortunate, but it’s needed.”
Police continue to investigate the latest assault and are looking for passengers who left the bus before speaking with officers. Anyone with information is asked to call 250-995-7654.