Kelowna bus drivers need added protections

A series of violent acts unleashed on Central Okanagan bus drivers has prompted a renewed call for added safety measures on local transit.

A series of violent acts unleashed on Central Okanagan bus drivers has prompted a renewed call for added safety measures on local transit.

Last Friday, May 20, there were four assaults on local bus drivers — two physical, two verbal.

The worst of all, police reported, was a case where one bus driver was punched repeatedly for not allowing a bike on board. Another incident saw a driver pepper sprayed.

“One assault is too much, but four, all within four to five hours is completely unprecedented,”  said Scott Lovell, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722.

“We need protections in place.”

There are three measures Lovell said will improve the safety of local transit.

First is the immediate training of drivers who are faced with difficult passengers.

“That should happen today,” Lovell said. “We don’t know what’s coming into the front door of our bus. We don’t know what world these people came from and we’re not trained to deal  with the things that front line health workers are dealing with.”

The second thing he wants to see are shields installed in local buses. They aren’t ground breaking technology, but they could save lives, he said.

BC Transit, however, has yet to move ahead on this measure, which he’s been requesting for nearly two years.

“Finally, and I’ve not asked for this before, we need to have a transit police,” said Lovell.

“In the Lower Mainland they have  transit police that are responsible for the loops and they have the authority to be actual police, make arrests and give tickets.”

That service, he said, would be a protection for not only bus drivers but also passengers.

” It’s possible, if we had a known transit police that  roamed the system, is it possible that Cesar Rosales would not be murdered?” he said. “Maybe people would think,  I won’t go and do this crazy thing.”

The request for added security measures has been repeatedly made since the high profile killing of Rosales.

“A few months ago we met our union leadership and we told our local MLSs about our concerns,” he said. “We have lobbied with municipal governance as well, to at least express to them that these issues do exist.”

The decisions rest in the hands of BC Transit, however. A pilot project with the shields has been launched in the Lower Mainland, Lovell said, but he’s yet to see anything of the sort be implemented in Kelowna.