BC Transit has announced that over the next 24 to 36 months it will upgrade all of its buses with driver’s door safety barriers to protect bus operators.
Previously, it had installed five buses with the Plexiglas barriers to trial them. The announcement to now roll out the barriers province-wide comes after the assault of a driver in North Saanich on Jan. 28.
Within the last two weeks, the union representing BC Transit employees has received reports from two of their members detailing assaults on them. One had a beverage thrown over him and the other was spat on. Official BC Transit statistics show there have been 32 assaults on B.C. employees (not including Vancouver) over the last year.
This number could possibly be higher as some transit employees do not report when they are assaulted.
Ben Williams, the president of transit workers’ union Unifor Local 333 was pleased with the decision but still angry.
He said that he had worked with BC Transit and Work Safe BC for more than four years and in that time, despite investigations and prosecutions, assaults continued to happen.
“We’ve travelled to Toronto and Brampton that used barriers, we even worked with Coast Mountain [bus company] and Vancouver organizations to develop barriers. They [BC Transit] trialled barriers for six months and then they were removed.”
Regarding the decision of when BC Transit would implement the barriers across their fleet, he noted, “it’s taken a significant incident to push this forward.”
BC Transit disputed this and said its decision to install barriers was reached more than two months ago and the assault in North Saanich occurred after it had made the decision. Discussions about when to implement the changes have also been ongoing over a number of weeks.
John Palmer, BC Transit’s director of safety and emergency management said safety for workers and passengers is their key priority. Since 2017, the design to drivers’ doors has changed and the company has embarked on trials in different communities and sought broad consultation.
“We have a transit communications centre permanently staffed like a 911 call centre, the drivers in Victoria have our CREST radio system linked to first responders and there is an inaudible alarm that drivers can use. Once switched it alerts us and the sign on the outside of the bus changes to ‘Help. Call 911.’”
The man who is suspected of assaulting the driver on Jan.28 was arrested by the authorities after his picture, captured on bus-installed closed-circuit TV, was disseminated in the media.
BC Transit has recognized the utility of CCTV cameras and has installed them in more than 600 of their buses across the province, with plans to install them in the rest of the fleet. So far, they have supported 360 police investigations in B.C.
Williams supports cameras as a tool to catch fraudsters but does not see them as a way of preventing crime. “Cameras aren’t a deterrent,” he added.
He is frustrated that measures were not put in place sooner or lessons learnt from elsewhere in Canada.
“In Ottawa, we helped change the law and got S221 passed. That changed this kind of assault from a common assault to an aggravated assault,” he said. “If this happened in a bank, the police, everyone, would say how could this happen? And it would change. Why not for bus operators?”
Palmer is keen to see the upgrades take place. “We’re working on an implementation strategy. There are significant logistics involved taking buses off the road, while maintaining service.”