Regulars who ride TransLink buses, the folks on the daily grind, may not know it, but there are some people who rely on them, just a bit.
After a while, the bus drivers who carry them around to work, shopping and home get to know their regular riders. Drivers can’t help but relax a bit with some familiar faces on board as they move their big New Flyer buses along the routes.
“We count on those relationships with our passengers,” says transit operator Lori Jackart. “Because they’re our back up.”
Two of those regular Maple Ridge transit users saved her life on March 5, 2010.
It was late in the afternoon and Jackart was at the east end of the No. 701 route in Maple Ridge, picking up passengers at 248th Street, ready to head back into town, when a man got on and asked how to get to 238th Street.
Another driver had warned her about someone who was upset and he was right. The man got on the bus screaming.
“He wanted directions to 238th Street and I gave him directions and he called me a liar. He was on something.”
She thought he was going to take a seat and was preparing to get underway.
“Then he came around the corner from behind me and he grabbed me by the throat.”
The man rammed her head into headrest of the driver’s seat, squeezing.
When she tried to grab the radio, her attacker braced himself and further jammed her into the seat.
“I remember hitting the assault button and saying, ‘Get off me.’ “
It happened so fast.
“You’re not thinking of trying to get out of it. You just can’t believe it’s happening.”
That’s when the old couple jumped in, with the lady using her cane and the husband grabbing the man by the neck.
“Between the two of them, they dragged him off. I was taking them to mass. Those people saved my life that day. It would have been very different if they had not been there that day.”
While Jackart was lucky to get help that day, Jackart also wants help from the law and is supporting Saskatchewan MP Ralph Goodale’s campaign to amend the Criminal Code. Goodale wants any assault on bus drivers to be an aggravating factor in sentencing, so people think twice before venting on bus drivers.
Jackart says she just wants to balance out the bad thing that happened to her with something good, such as a tougher law to protect bus drivers.
“I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
The incident is now more than three years old, but Jackart still feels the effects, even though she’s been back to work for two years. She has trouble sleeping, has post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and gets agitated easily. It’s been tough on her family.
“We’ve all had to relearn to live with me,” she added.
The attacker damaged her vocal chords so she can’t speak for long periods without her voice going hoarse. When passengers board her bus, chit-chat is kept to a minimum.
She still has a lump in her neck from the strangulation.
While her attacker got three months of house arrest, she has to take a pill to sleep at night.
“My brain just does not shut down.”
Jackart served her own five-month sentence because she couldn’t leave her house for that length of time because of panic attacks. It took a year and a half of counselling before she felt safe going outside.
“When I did go outside, I was looking for him, watching my back.”
Once she spent two days and two nights weeding her garden.
She tried to come back after about a year, but a few months into the job some kids got in her face, literally. During one stop, they leaned in front of and made gang signs in front of her. Then they unfolded the bike rack and played on that. It was enough for Jackart to pack it in for another several months.
While she’s back behind the wheel again, driving buses based out of the Port Coquitlam Transit Centre, there’s one challenge she’s yet to conquer – getting back on to the No. 701 route through Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
Once her trainer took her out to the spot where she was attacked.
“I left the spot and still had heart palpitations,” she said.
“I’ve not had the courage to drive the 701. I’ve not driven it since that day.”
Freeloading free riders are recorded
They’ve been shot, spat on, punched, pushed, stabbed and sexually assaulted. And to have several F-bombs tossed their way throughout the day – well, that’s just part of the job.
With their hands on the wheel, paying attention to the road and following their employer’s policy of non-confrontation, bus drivers are easy targets for those people who’ve just had a bad day.
“Verbal … is like daily,” says Kelly Wainwright, union representative, and a driver himself for 21 years.
When it comes to the No. 701 route that connects Coquitlam with Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, and the route driver Lori Jackart was on when she was attacked, it’s “one of those identified routes that has more stresses on it,” said Wainwright. Statistically, there are more incidents on that route than the norm.
“Transit is so minimal up there [in east Maple Ridge]. They’re already frustrated” at waiting an hour for a bus, adds Jackart.
She said that serving the public can be an up and down experience. Most people are nice and just want to get on the bus and mind their own business. Drivers are seen as part of the machine.
“Every day, you leave with different emotions as a bus driver. Sometimes, it takes only one person to ruin your day. It will stay in your brain all day.”
One current aggravation remains passengers who don’t pay their fares. Coast Mountain Bus Company stresses that bus drivers aren’t enforcers, but mere collectors of bus fares. If someone boards a bus without paying, drivers can’t do much about it, although other passengers don’t really appreciate it. “Those who pay, get mad.”
Those who don’t are noticed. Anytime a non-paying passenger boards, drivers push a button and transit security takes notice so they can respond if the number of free riders in an area spikes.
According to Saskatchewan MP Ralph Goodale, more than 40 per cent of bus drivers have been assaulted, with five drivers a day across Canada being attacked. In Canada in 2011 – 2,061 drivers were attacked.
“This is simply unacceptable,” Goodale says. “The nature of their work puts bus drivers at heightened risk, so Parliament needs to recognize those dangers and take action to stop them.”
In June, Goodale introduced a private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Code, to make an attack on a bus driver an aggravating factor during sentencing.
Gone are the days when drivers simply would throw unruly passengers off their buses, says Wainwright.
Bus drivers are not bouncers or policemen, he points out. And Coast Mountain Bus training ensures that is not a response.
Cameras now posted in most buses help. Plastic shields, creating secure compartments for drivers, were tried but rejected. Many drivers felt claustrophobic and like to interact with their customers.
For any serious trouble, operators call transit security or transit police.
“There’s never, ever a delay,” getting police to respond to an incident.
“If I need a cop to be there, they’ll be there.”