B.C. Transit to install new protective doors on buses but Okanagan drivers aren't sure it's enough | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. Transit to install new protective doors on buses but Okanagan drivers aren't sure it's enough

BC Transit buses will get some safety upgrades.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED
September 10, 2019 - 6:30 PM

KELOWNA - Scott Lovell has been lobbying BC Transit for the installation of protective barriers around Okanagan bus drivers for years, seemingly to no avail.

"Since May 2016 when we had three, separate bus driver assaults, that's what we've been asking for," Lovell said.

He got the news he's been waiting for yesterday, Sept. 9.

B.C. Transit will start retrofitting the 650 buses around the province in early 2020 with protective driver doors.

Lovell has no idea what the doors will be like having not seen them in person. The Kelowna fleet was part of a pilot project a year and a half ago, but the new barrier appears to be different than what they took on a test run.

According to a press release, these “full driver doors” are interior barriers between the driver’s seat and passengers. They are made of laminated, tempered glass with anti-glare coating, and have a metal base.

Retrofitting will start in Victoria before moving on to Kelowna.

Whether it's enough protection for transit workers and passengers still remains to be seen.

Lovell said that while conditions tipped toward dangerous in 2016 they've continued to get worse in the time that's passed.

"2016 is when we learned we’re not a small town, anymore," he said. "We’re a big city, with big city problems. And since then, the drug situation in our city has become exceptionally bad."

Bus drivers have found themselves at the frontline of drug abuse culture, witnessing deals and overdoses and they're unable to do much about it.

"We’re getting people on the buses who are either needing to get their drugs or are on drugs and just need to go somewhere," he said. "We are getting more individuals with mental health issues... when we open the doors to the bus we have no idea what we're going to get."

Lovell said drivers are instructed to not do anything if conditions on the bus get dangerous, which they have.

"We’re not trained psychologists or trained to de-escalate situations with bus drivers," he said. "We’re not supposed to do anything, we’re not supposed to intervene to the benefit of our own passengers who may be at risk from these folks. We have to sit on our hands and address issues that we have the skillset to address."

What would make life better for bus passengers are people with that expertise.

"We've been calling for Transit Police and we need them," Lovell said, adding that in the Lower Mainland Transit Police have the authority to enforce laws and protect safety, unlike security guards who have little authority when a situation escalates.

"They can’t arrest people or force people out of the area, or when they see drug deals when they can’t do anything about it," he said.

If they had this ability, he said, it would go a long way to alleviating some of the stress on transit.

The project is expected to cost $6.5-million and will include the fleet’s double-deckers, regular 12-metre-long buses and medium-duty buses. New buses with the doors already installed will start arriving in late 2019.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 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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