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Bus drivers demand more protection

Bus drivers rally for safer work conditions at Transit Police offices in Sapperton on Monday. - Mario Bartel / Black Press
Bus drivers rally for safer work conditions at Transit Police offices in Sapperton on Monday.
— image credit: Mario Bartel / Black Press

Union leaders say the latest attempt to better protect bus drivers from assailants doesn't go far enough.

More than 50 drivers and supporters staged a rally Monday outside Transit Police headquarters in New Westminster after the force launched its new "Don't touch the operator" campaign.

The initiative follows the March 11 beating of a driver in Vancouver by three young women and the punching of a Surrey bus driver March 26, bringing to 42 the number of reported driver assaults already this year.

Unifor local 111 president Nathan Woods said bus drivers need more resources like transit supervisors that are available when there's trouble on a bus.

"There's not enough security," Woods said, noting buses cover 1,800 square kilometres of routes yet there are no plans to increase the numbers of Coast Mountain security officers, transit supervisors or Transit Police officers able to respond.

"We've had enough."

Other union leaders echoed the call for the deployment of more transit security officers and urged stiffer penalties for assaults.

TransLink last week joined the Canadian Urban Transit Association in pushing the federal justice minister to impose tougher sentences for assaults against bus drivers – an idea that has been floated before.

Despite $15,000 rewards offered by Coast Mountain and its unions to catch assailants, there's no sign of the number of incidents slowing.

The current rate of driver attacks is the equivalent of one every two days, about 25 per cent more frequent than last year, when 134 drivers were assaulted.

Video cameras are in place on most but not all buses.

Coast Mountain has for years considered installing clear plastic shields, but has held back because about half of drivers don't want to use them, especially if they become mandatory.

"For 100 years we've had a relationship with our passengers that didn't require this," Woods said. "But the aggression is getting bigger and bigger."

He said Unifor is now working with WorkSafeBC to clarify whether barriers could be optional for drivers to use at their discretion.

If so, he said, union members would definitely support installation.

If WorkSafeBC decides any barrier must be closed when a bus is running to ensure the driver is protected, then the union will again poll its members to see if it has majority support.

– with files, photos from Mario Bartel

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