Greater Victoria bus drivers favour use of security cameras

Angry passengers are increasingly spitting on bus drivers, says the head of B.C. Transit’s union, who is pleased that a onboard surveillance system is on its way.

“We did have an operator spat on two days ago,” Ben Williams, president of Unifor Local 333, said Thursday.

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“Unfortunately, spit seems to be the assault of choice,” Williams said. “When I started 15 years ago, we probably had maybe five or six incidents a year. Now, I’ve seen three and four in a weekend.”

B.C. Transit is planning to issue a request for proposals later this summer for a contract to install and maintain a closed-circuit television surveillance system in buses.

The system will go into place as new buses are added to the 1,030-vehicle fleet, a Transit spokeswoman said this week. It is intended to improve safety for drivers and passengers and to discourage vandalism.

The union supports the idea of cameras to help deal with assaults, Williams said. “B.C. Transit has assured us it will not be used for disciplinary reasons.”

Assaults can’t always be prevented, he said. “But, [camera footage] definitely is beneficial in the prosecution of anybody that has assaulted an operator or another patron on B.C. Transit buses.”

Often these situations involve people with mental illnesses and with repeat offenders, he said.

“If it deters one assault, then that is fantastic,” he said. “We just want to see a decrease in assaults on operators. We would ideally like to see none. If that can start moving us towards that goal, then that is fantastic.”

He estimates there’s an average of at least one assault a week. Incidents include violence. A local driver reported being punched several times by a passenger in 2012.

It’s not clear yet how many cameras will be in use or what areas they will cover, Williams said. Transit said no cameras mounted in buses are currently connected to a monitoring system.

One legal issue faced by a bus service elsewhere was verifying that images captured on buses could not have been tampered with, he said.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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