TransLink to pilot new full-barrier screen to protect bus drivers

The driver on your Lower Mainland bus may soon be sitting behind a full-screen Plexiglass barrier.

New York-style barrier system will be tried in the region later this year

Under a pilot project, four buses with half-screen barriers are already on routes across the Lower Mainland. Now, a new bus will feature a full-screen, floor-to-ceiling barrier. (TransLink)

The driver on your Lower Mainland bus may soon be sitting behind a full-screen Plexiglass barrier, if TransLink sees good results from a test bus due to arrive later this year.

The new bus will feature a New York transit system-style screen, which runs from the ceiling straight down to the floor of the vehicle. It will join four other buses with half screens currently being tested as part of a TransLink pilot project.

The move to barriers comes as a response to the number of assaults committed on the company's employees. Between January and April of this year, 32 drivers have been assaulted at work.

TransLink spokeswoman Jennifer Morland told CBC News Thursday that although the number of assaults on drivers has gone down in recent years—from 134 in 2013, to 110 last year—it remains a serious problem.

She said the four buses with half screens are currently on routes in Vancouver, Port Coquitlam, Surrey and Burnaby.

Transit police spokeswoman Anne Drennan told CBC News that in many instances, barriers can prevent assaults, both serious as well as lesser assaults such as spitting.

She said that just last weekend, a driver on a Vancouver route was attacked while the bus was moving. Without warning, a man stood up, punched the driver on the shoulder and grazed his face

"This is one of those situations that it's quite likely that some sort of barrier would have helped," Drennan said.

Nevertheless, according to their union, not all bus drivers are convinced barriers are the best approach.

"The senior ones ... don't want it because they've been behind the wheel without barriers for years, and they're comfortable," union spokesperson Nelson McCabe told CBC News. 

"The junior drivers are more inclined to want it."

McCabe said there is no timeline yet on whether either type of barrier will be installed on buses across TransLink.

With files from Farrah Merali.