How Can We Prevent Operator Assault?

In the fight against assaults, there are ways for transit agencies to protect their bus operators. Agencies can install security cameras, call buttons to alert police and install bus barriers. Agencies can also provide guidance and training for their operators. Operators can face many different types of assault, and according to Brendan Danaher, the director of government affairs for the Transport Workers Union (TWU), some types of assault go unreported.

“For us and for many of the people that we represent, the biggest concern right now is bus operators who are subject to assault on a regular basis. In fact, depending on how you define assault, it is so common that sometimes people don’t even report it, verbal assaults and being spat on are things that happen maybe daily – certainly weekly. So it’s difficult to determine what those numbers are, but as you get into more dangerous and severe types of assault, whether that’s brandishing a weapon or being sprayed with mace or actually being punched or physically assaulted. Those do get reported,” said Danaher.

In a story published by Metro Magazine, an example of an assault is given. It’s 3:37 p.m. when Control Center gets the priority call. An anxious bus driver is requesting police assistance. “Two passengers are refusing to leave the bus and are threatening to assault me.” The driver leaves the radio open for Control to hear the escalating exchange of comments and subsequent violence. The police are called, and by the time they arrive, the perpetrators have left the bus on foot. Some passengers remain on the scene of what was initially a full vehicle. They mill about on the sidewalk while one passenger sits next to the stunned bus driver administering comfort. A bloody nose, a split lip, perhaps a fractured jaw, and a bus driver rocked to his core. Within hours of the assault, the news spreads across the authority. The local media is alerted. The front line is fevered with fear of a lawless customer population and recriminations against what they perceive is a dismissive Control Center and an apathetic executive leadership.

Now, the Monday Morning Quarterbacking begins. The digital tape is pulled. Management and union representatives review and come to different conclusions. “The driver got out of his seat. He was looking for a fight.” “No, he was just doing his job. The other riders expected him to shut the perpetrators down.” Situations such as this are why transit work assaults are a complex issue and require multi-layered analysis and multi-tiered response.

With assaults being common, and on the rise, how can your agency help prevent these actions against your drivers?

Prepare the Drivers

Traditional customer service training relies on pre-written scripts to develop skills. But human beings, particularly those who are agitated, respond poorly to a canned response. Teaching bus drivers to build community with their ridership through empathy and authentic concern will add a layer of protection to the bus driver.

A good example, provided by National RTAP’s Problem Passengers training, can be found when you click here.

Drivers need to know the difference between Escalators and De-escalators.

High-Percentage Escalators
◗ Cornering

◗ Humiliating

◗ Ignoring

High-Percentage De-escalators

◗ Calm/Assertive

◗ Informing

◗ Reflective listening

◗ Opening Questions

◗ Uniting

Below you will find several other ways you can address assault before and after an event takes place. Being a team speaks volumes to your drivers and your riders.

Try implementing these actions:

Create a heat map for most violent routes at the most violent hour of the day/night; station transit police on those routes rather than stationing them on less distressed routes.

Teach managers, supervisors, control center, and transit police to respond with empathy when an assault or threat has occurred.

Keep the assaulted bus driver informed of the legal process against the perpetrator and what the outcome was.

Work with the union to develop sensible and clearly written policies on what constitutes self-defense and what constitutes aggression.

Advocate publicly for the safety of the driver by taking shared concerns to local and state government to push for more comprehensive laws on driver assaults.

Create signage across the transit system stating that “Assaulting Bus Drivers is a serious crime, which will not be tolerated.”

Don’t hesitate to ban violent offenders from the system. You will be creating a safer system for both the driver and the riding public.

Survey your frontline for their safety priorities. Publicize the survey results widely within the organization to maintain engagement and encourage accountability and empowerment. For instance, if only 50% of the driver population strongly commits to shields while the other 50% are against them, publicize the response and follow up with working committees for alternative solutions.

As stated by Randy Tonnellier, manager of operations at Winnipeg Transit, “Safety for our operators, inspectors, and all of our riding public is important to us, so it’s something we’re always working on because we want everyone to feel comfortable when using our services.”



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