Safety in spotlight after bus driver assaults

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A recent string of assaults against Edmonton Transit operators, including a driver who lives in St. Albert, has prompted local officials to take a closer look at tightening security on city buses.

Aside from a few verbal assaults from some passengers, city Transit director Bob McDonald said there have not been any recorded incidents of physical violence against St. Albert Transit bus drivers.

That’s in stark contrast with the events that have unfolded in Edmonton during the last two months, which saw four attacks on bus drivers.

The worst attacked occurred Dec. 3 when veteran ETS driver Tom Bregg, a St. Albert resident, was dragged off a bus and was repeatedly stomped on the head near 139th Avenue and Victoria Trail.

Gary Edwin Mattson, 24, has been charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and assaulting a police officer.

McDonald said if verbal confrontations do arise, St. Albert Transit drivers have the ability to contact authorities through their radio system. The situation is usually resolved before it has a chance to escalate.

“There is certainly from time to time verbal assaults on drivers and those are disturbing enough,” said McDonald. “We have been able to resolve the vast majority by having our own operations staff go out and deal with them.”

The attacks have certainly left an impression on St. Albert Transit operators, who are questioning whether additional security measures should be introduced here.

While no immediate plans are in place, Bruce Kirk, spokesperson for Diversified Transportation Ltd., the company contracted to operate St. Albert Transit buses, said that could change as current security procedures are now under review.

“We feel our procedures are sufficient, but we are currently in the process of evaluating if additional measures are warranted,” said Kirk. “Certainly there are some concerns that we have to deal with.”

As a result of the attacks in Edmonton, officials and police in that city are fast-tracking plans to increase operator safety and rider confidence.

All ETS buses will be equipped with decals that state zero tolerance for violence toward bus drivers. Other measures include increasing the number of uniformed and plain-clothes transit peace officers on buses and the LRT.

Tests on various shields to protect drivers from abusive passengers have been ongoing as well.

Security cameras have already been installed on buses and efforts are being made to improve the communication system to emergency responders.

In St. Albert, the city will install security cameras on most buses later this year, a $100,000 cost, but so far that’s the extent of plans for beefing up security.

McDonald said the city will be keeping a close eye on Edmonton as the city scrambles to find solutions to keep its drivers out of harm’s way.

“We need to be able to ensure our drivers there is a response in Edmonton as well as St. Albert, and we are working with the city on how that can be accomplished,” said McDonald.

“We are clearly concerned about the safety and security of our operators, but we want to make our response in line with the actual problem.”

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