Ottawa

Violence against OC Transpo drivers persists

OC Transpo drivers continue to endure violent acts by passengers including hitting, spitting and threats.

Employees continue to endure hitting, spitting, threats, new numbers show

Passengers lash at at drivers because they're easy targets, their union says. (Stu Mills/CBC)

OC Transpo drivers continue to endure violent acts by passengers including hitting, spitting and threats.

From July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, there were 111 assaults against OC Transpo employees, mostly bus drivers, according to data from the City of Ottawa.

That number is down slightly from the previous 12 months when there were 119 violent incidents, 104 involving bus drivers.

The numbers are up significantly from 2015 and 2016 when there were 85 and 87 assaults respectively.

"Anybody being assaulted while trying to do their job is unacceptable," said Clint Crabtree, president of ATU Local 279.

'People are frustrated'

The latest numbers don't reflect any incidents that may have happened on the Confederation Line, which launched Sept. 14 and has been beset by problems.

Unlike bus drivers, train operators sit within a segregated compartment, but Crabtree worries other OC Transpo employees might bear the brunt of passengers' growing frustration.

"People are frustrated today and they've been frustrated for a bit due to the fact that they're waiting for a bus and the bus isn't showing up and they have to get to their appointments or to their job, their workplace, and they're late," he said.

"The first person that they see is the bus operator and ... they tend to take it out on the bus operator."

Twelve OC Transpo buses have been fitted with protective barriers as part of a pilot project. (CBC News)

Pilot project in place

"One of our top priorities is the safety and security of transit customers and of our employees, which is why there are numerous safety related programs and policies in place to ensure continuous improvement in relation to safety and security,"  wrote Jim Hopkins, OC Transpo's chief safety officer, in a statement to CBC Ottawa.

Among those measures is a pilot project that saw protective shields installed in 12 buses earlier this year.

Crabtree said he expects the results of the pilot to be available by next summer, but is already hearing positive reviews from drivers.

"It makes them feel secure while they're doing their job," Crabtree said.

Crabtree acknowledged some drivers don't want the shields because they feel they inhibit their interaction with passengers, but he said the union would like to see all buses equipped with the transparent barriers.

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