Union Proposes Shields for Metro Bus Drivers

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Four attacks against Metro bus drivers in June prompted a D.C. union to propose the installation of optional bus safety shields on July 1 before a panel of transit officials.

In a letter issued by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which has 11,000 Metro workers, President Jackie Jeter told bus operators that they “deserved better treatment” and a meeting was scheduled with bus authorities to discuss safety shields.

“The Optional Bus Safety Shield is intended to protect bus operators and provide protection from attacks by riders and/or vandals on the street,” Jeter wrote in the letter.

Anthony Garland, a Metro bus operator and recording secretary for the ATU Local 689,
said the union met with a vendor on June 30. The Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMATA) has been open to the idea, he added.

“It looks like they are on board,” Garland said. “They’re willing to put some type of prototype on buses.”

Garland said because the union and WMATA are in the early stages of negotiating vendors and designs, a budget has not been discussed. Hinge designs and glass types will be considered into the budget when recommendations are received from the Department of Transportation, he added.

WMATA has proposed vendor Bentech, a design and fabrication firm located in Philadelphia, the union said.

In a PowerPoint presentation prepared by the D.C. union in December 2010, the union said the safety of bus operators “lags behind.”

“Bus operators are being threatened, humiliated, intimidated, verbally abused, and in far too many instances physically assaulted,” the presentation stated. “There has to be a much greater effort, by the Authority and the Union, to invest in operator safety.”

In 2008, WMATA and Local 689 proposed a bus shield, but the prototype design was not accepted by those who operated the bus. Instead, bus operators wanted to have more control over the shield.

“Operators were a great deal more receptive to a shield design that allowed the operator to open or close the shield at their option,” the PowerPoint slide stated.

Dan Stessel, spokesman for WMATA, confirmed the shared effort to install the shields and said the transit authority is committed to improving safety on buses.

“We are considering installing plexiglass protective barriers on some routes, in consultation with the union, to enhance the safety of operators,” Stessel stated in an e-mail. “We are going to have the conversation when we meet with them.” He added that a timeline has not been determined.

Garland said when negotiations are completed, a pilot program will be started and protection shields will be installed on some buses to determine its success.

On June 24, in a congressional hearing called “WMATA: Is There a Security Gap?” Chief Michael Taborn of the Metro Transit Police Division said recent assaults on bus operators included being spat upon, doused with water and assaulted with a weapon.

“Most assaults stem from [disputes over] fare,” Taborn told Congress.