Last month in Olympia, Wash., passengers on a city bus witnessed their driver being brutally beaten in an attack that was caught on video for the world to see. The footage is alarming and sickening. It was not, unfortunately, uncommon.
From sexual and physical assaults to verbal abuse, the nation’s bus drivers are facing an epidemic of hostility. In the New York area alone there are seven attacks per month on average that range from spitting to beatings to stabbings, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Other cities see the same level of hostility against drivers, meaning it is time to address this problem at the national level.
Last fall, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, called on the Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration to hold a summit on bus driver assaults. Today, with the blood-soaked face of the Olympia bus driver fresh in our minds, we renew that call.
We must evaluate new measures, and new technologies, being used successfully in parts of our country and abroad to protect drivers and their passengers, who often get dragged into the fray. The installation of Plexiglas partitions to separate drivers from passengers or other changes to a driver’s seating area, are options to consider. Another is the presence of uniformed police officers on buses, and tougher penalties for those who do attack drivers. Other steps include video surveillance and better training for drivers. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has started offering rewards of up to $2,000 for information that leads to the arrest and indictment of those assaulting drivers.
The solutions to curb violence against bus drivers are out there—we have simply lacked the will to implement them. This must change, and we can start by holding a national summit with transit unions, public transportation leaders, local law enforcement and the appropriate federal government agencies.
Let’s not wait until statistics on physical attacks become numbers of fatalities. The men and women who help keep America moving deserve better. They deserve the safest working environment this country can offer.