It could be an assault, a serious traffic accident, or even a suicide on a transit bus, but when his phone rings, Dave McKay knows there’s a bus driver out there in need of help.
McKay is a front-line member of Coast Mountain Bus Co.’s “defuser” team — an army of about three dozen transit employees trained to help bus drivers cope in traumatic situations. At a moment’s notice, he could be called to help a bus driver involved in a fatal accident or who has been spat at or assaulted by a passenger.
“It’s kind of like emotional first aid,” said McKay, a former bus driver who manages the “defuser” team. “It helps them to recover faster and better.”
The volunteer program, started in 1992, is similar to the critical stress management used by police and firefighters, but tailored to bus drivers. The program is open to TransLink employees who must go through a rigorous screening to ensure they have traits such as strength, empathy and good listening skills to make them effective defusers.
Nathan Woods, president of the union that represents bus drivers, said the idea is to counsel bus drivers to help “take the stress away.” There are 23 members on the team now, while another eight are undergoing the four-day training. When a bus driver is in need, a call goes out to all the volunteers.
“Anyone can be used for any event,” Woods said, noting defusers are needed more than a couple times a week. “If you feel you’re not safe to drive anywhere, you can call a defuser.”
McKay, a former volunteer firefighter who became a defuser 15 years ago, has been woken countless times in the middle of the night, and once had to cut short a 10-kilometre run after a bus driver hit a cyclist. Sometimes, the call is extremely unsettling: in one case, he arrived at a fatal crash to find the traumatized driver standing over the body. In another, he dealt with a driver pummelled repeatedly by a passenger as he drove a crowded bus.
“The passenger was upset at the previous bus driver because he had been passed up or missed,” McKay said. “When this bus driver pulled up, the person walked through the front door and attacked him while the bus was moving. It was quite a big fracas.”
The driver was almost unconscious when he crashed into the curb. While passengers restrained his assailant, a transit supervisor was called to assess the situation and alerted McKay who raced to get there before the shock wore off. ” (The drivers) could be physically shaking or incoherent,” he said. “They’re at the point of being physically unable to function. The last thing we want them to do is drive a bus.”
It took McKay close to an hour to calm the driver down, using a structured process that allows the driver to explain what happened, react and then deal with it. But sometimes, the trauma is so bad that the driver needs more psychological help.
Drivers also don’t have to accept the help of a defuser. In 2014, 104 bus drivers used a defuser, while 214 rejected the offer. Last year, 97 accepted the help, while 225 declined it.
As a bus driver in the mid-1990s, McKay drove over a person who jumped in front of his bus at Hastings and Jackson St.
“He fell down and I drove over him. His legs were flailing,” he said. “I didn’t kill him, but I thought I had. It was just unimaginable.”
McKay didn’t use a defuser, but said his experience has helped him to aid others. Many defusershave backgrounds as former cops, firefighters or mental health workers, he said, and depending on what they see, some will stay on the job for more than 10 years.
“You need to be a person who is confident and has the strength to deal with people who are not in a good place,” he said.
The job has its consequences, however. Defusers are required to get counselling after every 10 incidents, but usually turn to each other.
“Generally, we take care of ourselves,” McKay said. “You help to defuse the defuser. If you don’t do that, that’s when we lose people.”
McKay said there are times when he doesn’t feel like taking a call, but he would never pass up a driver in need. He cites the case where the driver was found standing over the body.
The driver refused a defuser, but agreed to talk with McKay, thinking it was just a chat. Now whenever he sees him, McKay said, the driver thanks him for his help.
“Obviously, it had a profound effect on him,” he said. “There is some personal satisfaction in doing that. It’s people helping people, but they go that extra mile to put themselves out there for it.”
Courtesy of Vancouver Sun
OTTAWA — Transit union leaders from across Canada are again pushing the federal government to stiffen penalties for people convicted of assaulting bus drivers.
Thirty-one regional representatives from the Canadian Council of the Amalgamated Transit Union were to lobby politicians in Ottawa on Tuesday to resurrect a failed private member’s bill that would require judges to consider assaults on on-duty operators as an aggravating factor to be applied during sentencing.
Getting the proposed amendment to the Criminal Code back on the agenda is the priority for the director of the ATU’s Canadian Council, Mike Mahar, who took over the position in January. After meeting with about a dozen MPs in the past six weeks, he said Monday there is early support from some members of the Conservative majority government.
“It’s the biggest issue for us right now and has been for quite some time,” Mahar said. “We’re definitely seeing an increase in the severity of the assaults.”
He cited several specific attacks, including one in April on a Montreal transit driver who was severely beaten by three young men and hospitalized. Thanks to a surveillance video and tips from the public, three men have been arrested.
In Ottawa, police reported an assault in March in which a passenger sucker-punched an OC Transpo driver who reportedly questioned him about an expired transfer. Statistics from OC Transpo show 51 operators were assaulted in 2012. Fifty of those were Level 1 assaults with no or minor injuries. One report was a Level 2, a classification for those who suffer injuries. In 2011, three of 52 assaults were Level 2.
“These (assaults) happen daily (across Canada), and they’re only getting worse,” Mahar said.
Numbers collected by the Canadian Urban Transit Association and released by ATU this week shows 2,061 bus drivers from across the country reported being assaulted in 2011. The majority of those assaults included incidents in which people spit on the driver, which do not garner the public’s attention like the more vicious assaults.
A breakdown of CUTA data shows 47 per cent of the assaults did not cause bodily harm; six per cent of the attacks were with a weapon or causing bodily harm. Fewer than one per cent fell into the category of aggravated assault.
Mahar and his fellow union leaders were to spend Tuesday meeting with MPs, trying to find the support they need to resurrect the proposed bill that was introduced by Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber in 2011. The catalyst for that move was the well-documented assault on Edmonton transit driver Tom Bregg, who was beaten into a coma by a passenger in 2009.
The bill died when the last election was called and now the union leaders want to recapture the attention of their politicians. For Mahar, assaults on drivers will also continue to make bus driving an unattractive occupation.
“It’s going to be critical for the industry. As public transportation is growing, growing and growing in Canada, it becomes a staffing issue, it becomes a retention issue,” he said. If a bus driver is assaulted, “If they don’t come back, you’ve lost that experience and expertise. Then the general talk of the industry becomes, Do you want to get into that career?”
In the awake of this recent incident busdriver.ca and its administrators give total support to our fella operator who was involved in this disgusting assault, we believe that this brother had to react to a situation out of control which became ugly and unpleasant, we don’t approve violence nor provocation but when your safety and your passengers are at stake all necessary measurements have to be taken in consideration.
City police have identified a man arrested Wednesday after a Winnipeg Transit driver was spat on and the two traded blows in an exchange caught on cellphone video.
The incident occurred at approximately 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at a bus stop outside Polo Park.
A short video circulating on social media shows a man yelling at a bus driver and spitting at him, after which the bus driver chases the man out of the bus. The video, recorded by a bus passenger on his cellphone, shows the two men fighting for several seconds.
Police said Friday the assault was sparked by a fare dispute.
“The suspect became aggressive and opened the door to the driver compartment,” Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Rob Carver said Friday. “At this time, the driver opened the door to the bus to allow some distance when the assault occurred.”
A second transit driver and two passengers helped detain the suspect until police arrived.
Police have charged 29-year-old Matthieu Joseph Fortier with assault.
The bus driver is not facing any chargers in connection with the incident, Carver said
“If an individual was assaulted, you had the right to detain the person and call police,” Carver said. “There is often no way to detain someone who has been very aggressive, who has assaulted you without preparing to potentially use some force.”
Carver advised passengers facing similar circumstances not to intervene.
“We never know when we intervene as police officers if someone is going to produce a weapon or if there is another person connected to that individual we didn’t know about,” Carver said. “It’s a big risk. Our recommendation is to keep yourself safe and call 911.”
Video of the incident will be provided to a Winnipeg Transit assault review committee, which will determine if any disciplinary action is warranted against the bus driver, said Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 president John Callahan.
“We’re hoping there won’t be,” Callahan said. “We’ve had many drivers tell us they’d rather be punched or slapped than spat on. When someone spits in your face you see red, it’s the lowest of the low — disgusting, degrading, you name it.
“In the heat of the moment, it’s pretty difficult to contain yourself.”
Last year, Winnipeg Transit recorded 60 assaults on bus drivers, two-thirds of which were the results of fare disputes, Callahan said. Spitting is the most frequent form of assault.
Callahan said Winnipeg Transit could reduce the number of disputes and assaults by introducing inspectors who would randomly check passengers to ensure they had paid their fare.
“If we could take (fare collection) out of the equation, that would have a pretty big impact,” Callahan said.
Courtesy of Winnipeg Sun and CTV news