BC Transit installing barriers to protect drivers from assault

BC Transit is making a safety change that Kelowna, B.C., bus drivers and their union have long been calling for.

The transit authority is spending $6.5 million to install permanent barriers to protect transit operators from assault.

The protection is being added to more than 600 buses around the province.

The move comes after other changes failed to curb assaults on drivers.

BC Transit said in the last five years it has seen around 30 to 35 assaults a year throughout B.C.

“We’ve tried a number of initiatives including our CCTV program, operator training, enhanced relationships with police, code 9 buttons on buses … and none of them seemed to bend the curve downward,” said John Palmer, BC Transit’s director of safety and emergency management.

The change comes after years of advocacy by the union that represents Kelowna bus drivers.

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“We’ve been waiting a long time for this, probably going on four years,” Gary Dunn, vice-president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local.

“We currently have two drivers now that have pretty much finished with their driving career as result of assaults.”

Last year, the union said a serious assault in March 2019 could have been prevented if barriers had been in place.

In that incident, Kelowna bus driver Peter Lansing was knocked unconscious when a passenger assaulted him.

However, the transit authority said with issues like driver sight-lines to think about, it couldn’t rush into the multi-million-dollar retrofit.

“We needed to be methodical in this process,” Palmer said.

“This is a permanent piece of equipment that’s going on a bus that’s going to live for 20 years so we had to make sure that it’s done right.”

The barrier installation on Kelowna buses has already begun and is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

BC Transit said some aging buses that are reaching the end of their service life will not get full permanent barriers installed.

They will continue to have the temporary vinyl panels in place that were put in during the pandemic to protect against COVID-19.

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