New door to protect BC Transit drivers from assaults

'Assault by spit is something that’s become more and more common,' union president says.

Bus company testing new barrier to keep drivers safe but allow conversation

BC Transit is testing new steel and glass doors to protect bus drivers from increasing incidents of assault. (Sterling Eyford/CBC)

 BC Transit unveiled new steel and glass doors for its buses Wednesday to protect drivers from increasing incidents of assault.

Manuel Achadinha, the BC Transit CEO, said the new doors will be tested on several buses in Victoria, Kelowna and Abbotsford before the design is finalized and installed on the rest of the fleet.

"We're trying to maintain that … the bus is a safe place to be," Achadinha said.

"But it's also a place that, if you need to ask the operator a question, you still have the ability to do that."

"For the next six months we want to hear from our customers to see what they think of the door, but one of the things we're doing is we are committed to the safety of our operators and our customers," he said.

Ben Williams, president of the bus drivers union Unifor Local 333, said the new doors are a significant improvement over the initial version made of Plexiglas and pipe.

"Sadly, assaults have been on the increase," Williams said, with 30 incidents ranging from verbal abuse to punches in the last decade.

Driver shields common elsewhere

"Assault by spit is something that's become more and more common," he said.

"It's disgusting and nobody should have fear of going to work and being assaulted."

Williams said when protective doors for drivers were first introduced in 2015 many BC Transit drivers weren't convinced of the need, but more transit systems are taking the same approach, including Coast Mountain Bus Company in Vancouver.

"You go overseas this is a commonplace, every bus does have a barrier. But when it comes to North America it's something we're a little bit slower to adapt to," Williams said.