Rising numbers of assaults against Edmonton bus drivers have caused city council to consider implementing retractable shields on new buses. The shields would be installed on the air conditioned buses currently being brought in, to protect drivers against physical threats when necessary.
According to a report heading to an upcoming committee meeting, there have been 130 cases of assault against transit operators from 2015-2018.
“We’re finding our operators are getting assaulted more and more,” Mark Tetterington said. Tetterington is the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents ETS operators.
“And there’s been a gradual trend over the last few years where it’s gradually gone up and there’s more serious assaults.”
The rise in assaults has caused drivers to hesitate when it comes to driving certain routes, Tetterington said.
“Our operators are becoming more and more apprehensive about working nights, and they don’t want to work those shifts, but sometimes they’re forced to work those shifts.”
To decrease danger to operators, the report has outlined a pilot project to test the application of the shields.
“The cost of a retractable shield is approximately $5,000 per unit,” the report reads. “For the pilot, administration will install shields on 10 buses, for a total estimated cost of $50,000.”
“That’s pretty cheap money to test this idea out,” Ward 11 Councillor Mike Nickel said. “I think given the nature of it, it’s a no-brainer.”
Miranda Piques and Chad Von Matt take the bus daily. Both have witnessed times where drivers were assaulted. Von Matt mentioned one situation, where an irate passenger “grabbed the bus driver and started shaking him because he didn’t have the right change.”
“They’re always beating up the drivers,” Piques said. She also mentioned incidents of spitting and coffee being thrown at the drivers. “I think they need a shield for the drivers here.”
Von Matt agreed, believing that the implementation of shields would set a good example to other regions.
“You would think that (Edmonton) should be setting standards that others should be following,” Von Matt said. “One of the steps towards that would be showing that they care for their public employees.”
The city tested shields on buses from 2009-2010, but operators ultimately did not support the installation of full shields, due to complaints of claustrophobia and being cut off from the passengers on their routes. The ability for operators to retract the shields, however, might solve these problems.
“If we have that it’ll be down unless you feel threatened,” Tetterington said. “If an operator feels threatened they can just hit the button and the shield raises and then they’re protected.”
Nickel is one of the two city councillors responsible for bringing the bus shield inquiry to the upcoming meeting.
“This is a just-in-case kind of tool, and obviously as you can see by the numbers, it’s a tool that I think we need.” Nickel said.
The topic will be discussed on May 24.