Local bus drivers say assaults are a concern
There are 1100 operators who drive for Capital Metro. A Fox 7 investigation revealed, many of them don't feel safe. In early April, 2 passengers were kicked off a Cap Metro bus for having an altercation. Austin police say when they got off, one of them pulled out a knife and stabbed the other one.
"We are E.M.S, we're the lawyers, we're the doctors, we're the bartenders, we're the psychiatrists, because people interact with us everyday on those units," says former Capital Metro driver Alicia Moore. She spent almost 2 decades driving a local bus.
"It was something I always wanted to do," she says. Until she was assaulted. Moore says a passenger refused to get out of the driver's seat. And then took his anger out on her, "I was knocked unconscious."
She says a fellow driver called 911, and a Capital Metro supervisor. "It took them a long time to respond, it took the supervisor, I don't know how long to get there but A.P.D. got there before the supervisor did."
That was her last day working for the company she had given half her life to, she says, wiping away tears, "I'm sorry, it hurts because, I know a lot of operators, they know me and I know it's still happening and there's no recourse for it."
The head of the local operator's union, A.T.U., Jay Wyatt says the drivers aren't allowed to get out of their seats, adding, "so people can walk up to them, and push them, and hit then. Spit on them. All kind of stuff. They're virtually defenseless, you can't do anything about it."
That's how a current driver says he felt one hot summer day in June 2015. He asked to remain anonymous. But tells Fox 7, he refused to move the bus after a passenger wouldn't pay. "I picked up the radio to call radio control, to call for some assistance."
He says after waiting for nearly a half hour, the man, "hit me in the right eye, and there were bruises and cuts, inside my right eye, my eye was running water, and I couldn't hardly see. I had to take off from work for a week."
He's back behind the wheel now, driving a different route, but he says he doesn't feel safe. "it constantly crosses my mind."
"It is unfortunate when assaults happen," says Capital Metro's Dottie Watkins, adding, "Capital metro does everything that we think is reasonably possible. If funds were unlimited, we would absolutely put a police officer on a bus but we just don't have the resources."
Capital Metro also says that putting in bullet proof shields or cages isn't an option, because the hot summer months in Texas would create a "hot box" for the drivers.
And they add. assaults are rare, 8 in 2014. 6 in 2015. They say that's 1 out of every 5-million trips.
Drivers and Union reps say not all assaults are reported. Technically, drivers don't work for Capital Metro. So Fox 7 reached out to Travis transit, who employs the largest number, 740. They wouldn't speak with us on camera or give us a statement. Instead referring us to Capital Metro.
"The only way we find out about the person being assaulted is if the employee themselves call us," says Wyatt. And in emails sent to Travis Transit's parent company, Mcdonald Transit, Wyatt asked the company to be more pro-active in ensuring driver's safety. "They said they don't own the company, the property, the buses, taking a lackadaisical approach," he says of their response.
"All they want is the wheels turning everyday, when the wheels turning they are satisfied," the anonymous driver says.
And now guns are being added to the mix. According to Cap Metro, and the law, passengers with a license to carry can do so on the buses. "The policy prohibits their employees or any of the employees of our service providers for carrying guns on duty," Watkins says.
"We can't question it, something is going to happen," says Moore, "and if it takes something to happen, someone gets killed, I don't know what to say to that operator's family."
Capital Metro says starting this month they are rolling out a new set of buses. The 46 new ones being added to the fleet will replace the "oldest ones on the line", the UT Shuttle buses. They say each one costs roughly $465,000. Some of the new features include, cameras that drivers can watch in real time, so, they can see what's going on in the back of the bus. They're also equipped with extra mirrors, and, a sensor that's triggered when there's a quick turn. There's also new technology that will help alert bus drivers if there's an object in their blind spot.
They say the new buses will improve safety for both drivers and their passengers. The rest of the U.T. shuttle buses are scheduled to be rotated in, in early 2017. That's when they say they will also start to replace local buses. The last of the local buses, they say, are expected to be replaced at the end of 2017.