Several recent attacks on Metro Vancouver bus drivers have raised concerns again about what could be done to protect them.

In 2013, Metro Vancouver bus drivers reported 134 reported cases of assaults by passengers. So far in 2014, 40 cases have been reported.

"I'm afraid, but I'm also angry that this is happening", says Shannon Stewart, a bus driver for 10 years in Surrey.

"You should not be assaulted for doing a job. You should be able to go do your job, and your family shouldn't have to worry, and you shouldn't have to worry".

Shannon Stewart

Shannon Stewart says it's hard to predict passengers' behaviour. "We don't know what has happened in somebody's life just prior to getting on the bus"

A 2011 report for the U.S. Transportation Research Board found transit workers were "at higher risk of violence" than other occupations because of their daily contact with the public.

"It's very disturbing to the driver, it's disturbing to his co-workers. It can also affect passengers and decrease passengers" says researcher Yuko Nakanishi of Nakanishi Research and Consulting.

"Even though serious crimes are relatively infrequent, it's extremely serious".

DNA kit used in cases involving spitting

In London, England, drivers carry DNA kits to collect samples if they are spat on by passengers. Samples are compared against the UK national DNA database to identify offenders.

In Metro Vancouver, 56 cases involving spitting were reported in 2013, according to Coast Mountain Bus Company

Miami, Florida is testing partial enclosures to protect bus drivers.

Training for bus drivers can include self-defence techniques, as is done in Calgary.

"Some bus operators are enthusiastic...so they can protect themselves", reports Nakanishi. "

"However, some bus operators don't believe they should take on that responsibility. There are also some liability issues that may arise".

Coast Mountain Busses

About 65 per cent of the Metro Vancouver fleet is equipped with cameras.

The most effective tool against assaults on bus drivers appears to be video surveillance.

About 65 per cent of the Metro Vancouver fleet is equipped with cameras, according to Stan Sierpina, vice president of operations with Coast Mountain Bus Company, with older buses to be replaced by vehicles with cameras. 

Sierpina supports bill C-533 that calls for changes to the Criminal Code to make assaulting an on-duty transit worker a more serious crime.

"A transit operator has in his or her care up to 100 people," argues Sierpina, "and they need to be protected, as well as those they carry need to be protected".

Bill C-533 was introduced in June, 2013 by Liberal MP Ralph Goodale.

Catch Michelle Eliot with On the Move, a column about commuter issues, Tuesdays at 6:50 on The Early Edition, CBC Radio 1 88.1 FM/ 690 AM