Distancing drivers from authority positions a necessary policy change
// Colin Spensley

Everyone knows public transit can be a bit risky. Images of muggings and violence on subways and buses have been widely portrayed in films and television. However, it’s not the shady guy hanging in the back you need to worry about anymore: it’s the intoxicated teens hanging out at Phibbs bus loop at 1am when you’re tired, full of pizza, and just want to go to bed.

If you’re a bus driver currently working for Translink, the last bus you want to be driving is one many Cap students take daily. The 210 Lynn Valley and several West Vancouver bus routes have seen a string of recent driver assaults by drunken teens, and Translink's new security measures are doing little to protect their drivers or the people who ride these buses.

One could argue that they are just kids who want get home, but after ingesting half a two-six of Smirnoff vodka, they may also want to get a little rowdy, and obviously the last thing those teens are willing to do is spend $2.50 to get onboard a bus.

Many of Vancouver's bus drivers seem to have a strange complex with authority. Some of them are nice people who just want to give you a safe ride home; however, there are also the ones who would rather you stand in the freezing cold all night than waive the transit fare.

This string of incidents involving bus drivers refusing teens rides, due to their intoxication or lack of pocket change, causing the kids to lash out violently, seems to be seeded in Translink's lack of security measures. The role that drivers should not be playing is that of the enforcer or authority figure.
On Nov. 12, a bus driver was assaulted by two West Vancouver teens after an incident just after 1am on Marine Drive. Suspecting intoxication, the driver refused entry to the two teens. The assailants became infuriated and beat the driver, who suffered a broken nose and other facial injuries. It is hard to say if the driver brought on the attack by stepping into an authority role instead of just allowing the teens to do their own thing, which probably would have ended with them stumbling home in a drunken haze.

This incident echoes a similar one just over one year ago in which a driver was beaten and left for dead just off Mountain High Way and Lynn Valley Road by three teenagers.

In 2007, Translink announced that within the next few years, all buses would install video cameras as a deterrent to violence and crime on buses.

However, as Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association, states in an interview with the Province, "There are studies that show the cameras do not deter crime," she said. "It is a concern that cameras are proliferating. Quite often the idea is CCTV is a quick fix. What happens is we get technologically driven, which doesn't end up being the solution at all." It does seem a bit counter-productive to install cameras as a security measure when they can only serve to protect you after the crime has been committed. In 2006, there were 241 assaults against Translink bus drivers, which triggered the security measures implemented by Translink.

Being a bus driver can be a pretty thankless job. People generally treat you poorly, and Translink leaves it up to the driver whether or not to allow intoxicated people or passengers without fares onto the bus. Drunken teens and fare-less people make up a large part of the postmidnight bus population, and it’s quite common to see a driver loose their cool over some arrogant passenger.

In many major cities, plastic barriers have been installed to separate the driver from aggravated passengers who may want to cause them physical harm. This security measure does seem pretty logical; the last thing a driver needs while driving a bus full of people down the road is some asshole punching them in the face for making them pay a fare.

Cameras and plexiglass barriers aside, what Translink really needs to do in order to ensure the safety of driver and passengers is to add a security presence on late night and “dangerous” routes. Transit police are able to strike fear into the heart of anyone riding the skytrain without a paid fare, and having a presence on late night bus routes would likely deter any drunken angry teen from getting violent.

Transit police also have the authority to refuse transit and issue tickets to unruly passengers. Taking the power and responsibility from drivers would allow them to do what they have been hired to do: drive the god-damned bus and get us all home on time.

With the prices of monthly bus passes continuing to rise, it would seem that Translink could dip into their deep coffers and protect its valued customers and employees.

//Colin Spensley, Writer
//Illustration by Tiara Jung

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com