The union representing Greater Victoria bus drivers is calling on the provincial government to give those drivers the same protection as police officers. While we don’t agree that a bus driver is the same as a peace officer, we firmly believe drivers deserve better protection than they’re getting.
In the wake of this week’s violent assault on a B.C. Transit driver, Ben Williams, president of Local 333 of the Canadian Auto Workers, says he wants to see bus drivers recognized as peace officers to deter people from assaulting them. Assaulting a peace officer is considered by the courts to be more serious offence that should result in a stiffer penalty.
Bus drivers aren’t peace officers and designating them as such would not be appropriate. Still, there’s plenty of scope for courts to impose more serious penalties on people who assault bus drivers. A light sentence for someone involved in a spur-of-the-moment bar fight can be justified; hammering away at the driver of No. 61 is quite a different thing and deserves a heavier penalty.
Williams noted that 10 years ago, fewer than a dozen assaults on bus drivers were recorded in a year. Last year, 67 driver assaults were reported, with about 56 reported so far this year.
Driving a bus in an urban area demands more concentration than piloting an airliner. Not to take anything away from the skills and responsibilities of pilots, but there’s a whole system looking out for a pilot to ensure the runway is clear and no one else is in the same airspace. Someone else makes sure passengers pay and are safely and properly seated. Pilots are locked safely in their cockpits and are able to devote their full attention to flying the aircraft.
Bus drivers must ensure passengers pay, obey the rules and behave themselves. They have to be on the lookout for crazy drivers, absent-minded pedestrians and daredevil cyclists. They must be ever mindful of the safety and comfort of their passengers while exercising considerable skill and concentration to manoeuvre a 12-metre long vehicle along city streets.
Other drivers have the option to take a different route if the traffic gets tangled or the roads get slick. They can adjust their schedule to the conditions. A bus driver must stick to the prescribed route and endeavour to maintain a schedule, regardless of conditions. When circumstances make a bus late, the driver hears about it — it’s all his or her fault.
On top of all that, bus drivers are exposed to all kinds of people, day and night. The majority of passengers are polite, appreciative and considerate, but it only takes one to cause trouble, and sometimes that trouble comes in the form of assault, as illustrated by this week’s attack. The encouraging aspect of the incident was the actions taken by passengers in subduing and restraining the suspect until police arrived.
Equating bus drivers to peace officers won’t stop the assaults — the attackers are not usually people who are thinking clearly and considering the consequences — but neither should the courts consider attacks on transit drivers as run-of-the-mill assaults. Research has shown longer sentences have little deterrent effect, but keeping the culprits confined longer at least keeps them off the street. And those sentences should include being banned from public transit.
And the public can do its part — as helpful passengers proved this week — in standing up for public servants who are often undervalued and underappreciated.
© Copyright 2013