– Only matter of time before someone dies due to driver assault

The Province

Vancouver

By Kent Spencer

It’s only a matter of time before someone is killed as a result of a bus driver being assaulted on a moving bus, authorities say.

The Coast Mountain Bus Company said Monday that violent passengers have grabbed steering wheels and drivers have been punched about 10 times this year as buses travel through busy streets.

“Drivers typically try to fight them off, but it doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to figure out a fatality is waiting to happen,” said Rick Claybo, an assault analyst with the bus company.

“When the sidewalks are full at 5 in the afternoon, something’s going to happen to a pedestrian. Or a car could be squeezed off the road,” said Claybo, who has documented 114 assaults this year on drivers.

He said passengers’ safety is at risk as well as bus drivers’, pedestrians’ and those in other vehicles.

“Passengers should be up in arms. There are 50-to-60 people on a fully loaded bus. It’s a scary thought if you’re on board when a driver is snookered in the head. They don’t stop easily.

“I don’t want to get on a bus and wonder if something is going to happen. Unless people start taking this seriously, something will happen,” said Claybo.

Of the 114 assaults taking place until Sept. 1, 40 were physical ones and 55 were for spitting.

Two drivers have suffered serious eye damage.

There were 250 assaults in 2007 and 150 in 2008.

Over the years, claims to Workers’ Compensation Board in B.C. have poured in for acts of violence and verbal threats.

In a 10-year period beginning in 1998, drivers filed 127 “hit, kicked or beaten” claims with WCB.

There were two shootings, two stabbings and three bitings.

One serious incident occurred on Sept. 1 at 1:15 a.m. on the Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam.

A 15-year-old youth, whom Claybo said was drunk, hit a driver so severely the bus started weaving in traffic.

“The driver didn’t see him coming. He was punched in the right eye, through his glasses. It broke the orbital bone in his right eye,” said Claybo.

The bus was brought to a stop at Schoolhouse Road.

Police had noticed the bus’s swerving motions and were on hand to make an arrest. Claybo said nothing is likely to happen to the youth in the courts because penalties for assaults on bus drivers are not as severe as they are for those on police officers.

“With the way the court system works, very little happens. It’s not surprising,” he said. Another bus driver is recovering from several blows to the head from an intoxicated passenger on Saturday.

The youth had been peeing on a Burnaby bus.

Bus drivers’ union president Don MacLeod said those convicted of driver assault should do jail time.

“It should be the same as you would do for an assault on a police officer,” said MacLeod, speaking for 3,500 drivers in CAW 111.

“Currently, the penalties are just a slap on the wrist. Sometimes there is a no-ride policy on the transit system as a result. Because of the privacy laws, no one even knows who these people are. There are no strong deterents.

“It’s gotten to the point where it seems acceptable. It’s not acceptable. The laws have to be changed,” he said.

He said the answer lies with federal legislators who have the power to change the Criminal Code.

A private member’s bill is working its way through Parliament, but is given little chance of being passed. Bus drivers have some security devices, such as radios and assault alarms which communicate directly with the operations’ centre.

Coast Mountain security teams respond quickly, but usually arrive afterwards.

One security upgrade is in the works: the entire trolley fleet will have monitoring cameras by the end of the year.

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