By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It was a big concern among Metro Transit bus operators during the most recent contract negotiations, concerns that were validated after a series of driver assaults were caught on camera and posted on social media.

It’s tough to forget the April 2018 attack of a Route 5 Metro Transit operator. He was dragged from his seat and punched and kicked on the floor.

“These are moms, dads, spouses. They want to come in and do their jobs and go home safely,” Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said.

Amalgated Transit Union members demanded better driver protections. Management agreed and the two sides settled on a plan to enhance driver safety. Now, mechanics are busy retrofitting 150 buses with the barrier of choice, the Bentech Plexiglas door.

“It took time in order to get the process of figuring out which one we’d go with. It’s taking some time to install them. Once that’s all done I know we’ll be in a better spot,” Padilla said.

But to get to that better spot, mechanics will have to retrofit an average of eight buses per week. Padilla says operators will have the option of allowing the door to be opened or closed.

“It’s still early in the evaluation process, but what we’ve been able to tell we do believe there are certain to be cases where this is going to make a difference,” Padilla said.

That promises to save vulnerable drivers from serious injury.

In August a joint committee will review driver feedback. It’s expected the first 150 barriers will be installed on buses by the end of the year. Funding has been secured for an optional 450 additional barriers. If all are purchased it would cover about three-quarters of Metro Transit’s fleet.

Bill Hudson