May 6, 2009

Locking Up Bus Drivers

Here we go again with the way that politicians like to fight crime. It appears they like to lock up the law abiding citizens and permit the criminals to roam free. I am referring to the the bus driver’s plastic safety shields that are now being installed on TTC vehicles. This makes them the only transit system in Canada to use such shields to protect their drivers.

When it came to assaults, I was luck enough not to have experienced one. The worst thing that ever happen to me was to have passengers threaten me. I have seen the after effects on fellow employees that have been assaulted. The most unfavourable effects came from robbery at gunpoint.

So, is the driver shield the best way to go? 

When implementing something new like this the TTC use a procedure of involving the union shop stewards and a trial bus at each division. The shop stewards drives the bus for a week in service then make themselves and the equipment available at the division. The drivers could then see it for themselves and fill out a questionnaire. This time they saw a protocol shield that had a top and bottom piece that the driver had the option of leaving open or closing it if they wished. Most of the drivers DID NOT like the idea of a shield but were only accepting it because there was an option to close it or keep it open. For those drivers who drove at night and felt safer with it closed, they could do so.

So even after all of the questionnaires and suggestions from drivers the TTC still went ahead with the installation. The ones they are installing on the new buses HAVE TO BE CLOSED (bottom portion only) because there is nowhere to latch them...apparently.

The other thing they did not like was that there was no "escape door" on the closed side of the bus. If someone threw a fireball or something like that into the closed area, the driver has no chance of escape. Anyone could also grab the drivers arm as they reached for transfers, or someone who wanted to, could reach around the shield and grab the driver and again there is no escape.

Don’t laugh at the fireball thing. In 1978 I was on a tour of the New York City subway fare collection. At that time the fare collectors worked in a booth the same as the TTC. There were problems with gunpoint  robberies. The solution was to install bulletproof glass on the collector’s booth. With the intent of robbery at any cost, the crook showed up with his gun. The collector felt secure and pointed out that the booth now had bulletproof glass. The bad guy left and returned later with a container of gasoline. He proceed to pour the gas through the transaction hole and threw in lighted match.  

The  Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has also been testing the shields. Among the complaints are that the shields interfere with air circulation and create glare that interfere with the drivers using mirrors. Some large size drivers also say the shields make the operator quarters too tight. Other drivers are worried the shields would pin them in during a collision. Passengers also feel it's a block between open communications.

Recent incidents that could have been stopped include bricks and eggs being thrown through the front door at drivers and unruly riders punching, kicking or pepper-spraying bus operators. The safety shields also provide protection other than security. During winter, the barriers block cold air when the front doors open. The shields have help cut down on sick time off work. The shields serve as the equivalent of a sneeze guard at a salad bar.

Related link: ATU supports TransLink position
                         Mississauga Transit drivers demand greater safety

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