MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We’re getting our first look at a new barrier designed to keep Twin Cities bus drivers safe.
An auto-safety glass door will be added to 20 Metro Transit buses over the next couple of months as part of a pilot program. So far this year, there have been nearly 150 safety incidents between drivers and passengers.
“The purpose of this is to provide a physical separation so that our operators are able to maintain focus,” Metro Transit deputy chief operating officer for bus Brian Funk said.
The door, made by Vapor, locks and unlocks only from the driver’s side, and there is an automatic window to allow the operator to talk to passengers.
“When we came out to the garages this fall we heard from operators that this is something they wanted to explore,” Funk said.
According to Metro Transit, there have been 147 safety incidents against bus drivers so far in 2017, including 13 gross misdemeanors and one felony level assault. The majority were disorderly conduct and threats (74). There were 69.5 million passengers that used Metro Transit this year.
“It’s very stressful,” ATU Local 1005 union’s incoming president Ryan Timlin said.
Timlin says operator safety has been a concern for years. It was a key issue in recent contract negotiations with Metro Transit.
“Physical, verbal, people have been spit on, people have been punched,” Timlin said.
Timlin has been driving buses for 11 years. He thinks the barrier is a good move, but stopped short of saying if it was enough to protect drivers.
“I think time will tell on that,” he said. “It’s a step forward, it’s something that’s needed.”
The first bus with the protective barrier is expected to be out operating at the start of the new year. There will be a six month long evaluation process involving a committee, that will be formed in early 2018, before determining if more barriers will be added to Metro Transit buses.