B.C. Transit drivers will be getting the protection they've wanted for years - InfoNews

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B.C. Transit drivers will be getting the protection they've wanted for years

FILE PHOTO - Kelowna bus driver Al Peressini is pictured behind the wheel of a bus equipped with a protective shield. The shields, or safety doors, will become standard equipment for the entire B.C. Transit fleet.
March 19, 2019 - 6:30 PM

KELOWNA - More than a year after B.C. Transit started testing protective shields for its bus drivers, it has confirmed that they are going to be installing them in all their larger buses.

The prototype shields — or safety doors as B.C. Transit calls them — were installed in five buses last February. Three were installed on buses in Victoria and one each in Kelowna and Abbotsford.

“We are moving forward with the implementation of the full driver doors throughout our fleet across the province,” John Palmer, B.C. Transit’s Director of Safety and Emergency Management, told iNFOnews.ca today, March 19.

That’s good news for advocates like Scott Lovell, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722 in Kelowna who started advocating strongly for the shields after four of his members were attacked in a single day in 2016. But not all drivers are keen on the idea.

“Some drivers will be pleased,” Palmer said. “Others that we’ve heard from really don’t want to have a full driver door. They prefer interacting with their customers.”

There will be plenty of time for drivers to adjust since it could take three years to get doors installed in all the buses.

“The structure of B.C Transit is very unique in the transit industry,” Palmer said. “We have locations all across the province of British Columbia so it’s very complex for a contractor to provide doors to a variety of different buses in a variety of different locations.”

The testing garnered responses from about 100 different drivers and will influence the ultimate design of the shields.

Palmer expects a request for proposals to go on B.C. Bids in June with the contract awarded by September. He won’t know until then just how long it will take to install the shields on the 600 to 700 buses in the fleet, who will do the installation and whether they will be installed in multiple locations at the same time or separately.

Ideally, he said, they will start being installed in various locations, starting with the newest buses in the fleet and moving to the older ones, since some of the old buses may be retired before the safety doors are installed. He expects it could be 2022 before all the work is done.

The shields consist of solid plexiglass behind the driver to prevent sudden attacks from behind, which is their chief purpose. At the side, there is a metal door on the lower half and a sliding plexiglass window on the top half that can be adjusted for the drivers to see their side mirrors. A determined attacker could reach around to grab a driver from the side.

“There are no doors in the market that are going to stop somebody who really wants to get at you,” Palmer said.

Since Lovell started advocating for the driver shields in 2016, he said the incidents of physical abuse against Kelowna drivers has declined, in part due to increased training and a shift away from strictly enforcing the collection of fares. He said 90 per cent of conflicts between drivers and passengers are over fares. B.C. Transit has been emphasizing the need to reduce such conflicts.

“It’s something that we have been working really hard on, to try to train the drivers to try to disengage from situations,” he said. “The focus is on not worrying about the bus fares. The company and B.C. Transit and even the City are not too worried about the bus fare.”

Lovell personally talks with all new drivers when they finish their training, stressing the importance of reducing conflicts.

Palmer said the safety doors currently being tested cost about $6,000 each just for materials. He’s hoping that given a larger order, B.C. Transit will get a better deal from the suppliers. But he stressed it’s not about the money. It’s about improving the safety of drivers.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2019

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