Metro calls in help for bus driver assaults after attacks

WASHINGTON — Urine. Spit. Sunny Delight. Fists. Each has hit Metrobus drivers during an uptick in assaults that the operators and Metro warn could put everyone on the road at risk.

Now, Metro is calling in an outside review team from the American Public Transportation Administration late next month to see what ideas to prevent the assaults Metro may be missing that have worked elsewhere.

“The primary focus is on bus operators, but it’ll be on all employees that interface with the public,” Metro Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin said.

Assaults are part of the reason Metro’s bus employee injury rate in July, August and September was 49 percent higher than the same period a year earlier.

Among the potential long-term suggestions from the review, Lavin said, is a new bus design that would completely seal off operators from riders. Current shields installed on many Metro buses still allow determined offenders to reach around to get to the operator.

Metro has already increased police presence on key bus routes, added safety ride-alongs and has the Bus Operations Control Center reach out to drivers during late night service. Metro and its largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, also want tougher penalties put in place for assaulting transit workers.

“We may not agree on everything but this is one area where we are both partnering together,” Lavin said.

He believes more jail time, even under current law, for those convicted of assaulting Metro workers is key to deterring attacks.

At Thursday’s Metro Board meeting, a number of bus operators said Metro has not done enough to prevent the violence.

“The assaults on Metrobus operators must stop,” Tracy Smith said. “Stop talking, and start acting.”

At the meeting, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld praised a driver who managed to safely pull his bus to the side of the road recently after a woman sprayed Sunny Delight on him.

Metro managers warn that the assaults put everyone on the road at risk, since a driver attacked while moving could swerve into other cars or onto the sidewalk.

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