Assaults against bus drivers are on the decline, dropping to the lowest level in seven years, says TransLink.
Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) statistics show there were 116 such assaults in 2012, 30 fewer than the year before and a 52 per cent reduction from a high of 242 in 2006. The number of serious assaults involving violence declined by five per cent to make up 23 per cent of the 2012 total.
Since 2006, safety improvements to the company’s buses include on-board cameras which serve as a deterrent and a source of evidence for catching and prosecuting suspects.
Peter Arkell, CMBC’s assault and WorkSafe prevention specialist, said only the oldest buses which can’t accommodate the cameras have yet to be outfitted with them, but cameras will be on all new replacement buses as the old ones are retired.
“We’re not too far off seeing a day when every single coach has cameras on board.”
The company has also installed systems that, with a touch of a button, allows transit communications centre staff to instantly hear what’s going on in a bus. They can then pinpoint the location of the bus using global positioning system (GPS) technology and dispatch supervisors or police.
“It eliminates the need to interact with the operator” in an emergency, Arkell explained.
Perhaps more significantly, there have recently been “more appropriate sentencing decisions in line with assaulting a transit operator,” he said.
TransLink has been lobbying the courts to, during sentencing, treat people who assault bus drivers similarly to those who assault a police officer.
“They’re on the job and they’re in a very vulnerable position because they don’t really have anywhere to go,” Arkell said.
The strongest sentence handed down recently was 33 months in prison for someone convicted of two counts of aggravated assault, one for choking a bus driver and the other for stabbing another passenger once off the bus, he said.
Last year, Del Louie pleaded guilty to a February 2011 assault in Burnaby on bus driver Charles Dixon, who sustained a shattered orbital bone.
Louie received a conditional sentence of 18 months to be served in the community, with two years probation.
Dixon underwent multiple surgeries to repair the damage and address related health complications and was off work 14 months before getting back behind the wheel of a bus last May.
Don MacLeod, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 111, which represents Metro Vancouver bus drivers, said it’s important to not only look at a snapshot of assault numbers.
While the number may be down this year, “the previous year there was actually an increase of over 20 per cent,” MacLeod said.
MacLeod would like to see Transit Police and transit security more active on board the bus system and stiffer sentences involving jail time.
“The courts need to recognize it’s simply unacceptable to assault public service workers out there. It particularly is concerning when our members get assaulted when they’re behind the wheel, there have been some when the coach has been in motion.”
There have been assaults against bus drivers as long as there have been bus drivers but the nature of such attacks have changed.
“They seem to be more brazen and some of them seem to involve weapons,” MacLeod said, noting last week a bus in Surrey was the scene of a stabbing incident which spilled out onto the sidewalk.
“Our members are vulnerable out there behind the wheel and they just want to get home safe at the end of the day and get their passengers safely from point A to point B.”