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Attacks on RTD bus drivers increase, new tool will help make everyone safer

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DENVER -- A FOX31 Denver investigation reveals how a rise in videotaped attacks on Regional Transit District employees is leading to new security measures which may create a safer environment for both bus drivers and passengers.

Our investigative team pulled the stats. The number of assaults on RTD drivers more than doubled last year.

Records show 12 drivers, plus 26 other RTD employees faced physical violence or death threats in 2013 while doing their jobs. Compared to the previous year, assaults on RTD employees jumped 68 percent.

In fact, of all the assaults reported on RTD property in 2013, 40 percent of the attacks were against employees.

A recent example moving its way through the courts is that of Michael Saldana.

It was two days after Christmas when Saldana boarded a bus and is accused of attacking a driver. Videotape of the assault shows Saldana hitting the driver with a bag and fists, then trying to strangle his victim.

Saldana was charged with felony endangering a public transit employee and assault of a peace officer, plus misdemeanor counts of assault and harassment.

FOX 31 Denver also obtained videotape of a dozen other incidents which show drivers getting spit on, slapped, threatened with death, having hot coffee thrown in their faces, and hit with heavy objects.

Passengers like Kristin Bowman don't like riding transit with her daughter Tashia due to safety concerns, but says she has no choice. She says unruly passengers put everyone on the bus in jeopardy, but the driver is often the initial target.

“Yeah. As soon as they get on the bus, that;s who they first see, so that's where it starts and then when they walk through the bus and that's where it continues.”

Another frequent rider, Adreanette Cooper, tells FOX 31 Denver when a volatile passenger boards the rest of the passengers count on the driver to protect them, even though she knows it’s not really their job.

“I feel sorry for them (the drivers). They need to be safe to, I mean, without them, how am I going to go where I need to go?"

Transit Police Officer Amy Homyak thinks the increase in driver assault statistics is the result of a growing emphasis on drivers reporting passenger behaviors --- not an actual increase in violence.

“A lot of them have been doing it for so long they consider it part of their job when it's not part of their job and we're here to make sure it doesn't.”

Homyak tells FOX 31 Denver Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne RTD is about to launch some new safety measures which should help passengers and drivers.

First of all, new high-definition cameras are getting installed on most buses over the next two years. Transit vehicles currently have cameras to record problems but some are very low-quality or non-operational which makes identifying aggressors difficult.

The new cameras will have a “live-feed” feature, which in certain cases can send video directly to security command.

On top of new HD cameras, RTD will soon give passengers the power to quietly report safety concerns with a new cell phone app.

FOX 31 Denver has learned the 'Transit Watch' app is already being used successfully in Los Angeles.

We showed a prototype of the RTD's pending security 'text' feature to mom Kristin Bowman to get her feedback.

Chris: Would you be more likely to report something if you could do it quietly?

Kristin: Quietly? Yes I would. I think it makes things better than worse. You're able to report it and it can get handled more quickly than later.”

“People hesitant to call 911 unless it’s a really big deal, so the app is perfect; direct contact,” Transit Police Commander, Bob Grotto says. “The transit system belongs to all of us and this allows are riders to be involved with their own safety and the safety of the others around them.”

Grotto adds that the cell phone app comes to Denver at a greatly reduced cost in an agreement with LA Transit who absorbed the expense of creating the software features from scratch.

RTD tells us the security app should be available to the public in the next two months.

 

12 comments

  • Roy Martinez

    It’s not an increase in reporting, It’s actually a fact that RTD (RTD Dispatch) is finally calling the cops. There has even been recent incidents in Highlands Ranch. Until RTD takes an aggressive prosecution approach it will continue to get worse. Jeremy Hubbard you are such a TWIT, drivers don’t want to engage people in these situations….

  • colocaver

    I can guarantee the “unruly passenger” would just sit down and shut the ____ up if the driver or even one of the riders were open carrying.

    An armed society is a polite society

  • rbrightwell19

    The problem with threats/violence against drivers correlates directly with RTD’s crackdown on drivers to enforce payment of fare by ALL passengers. No-pay by passenger intimidation/excuse has been rampant for 20 years. These passengers are also the individuals that delay and cause trouble on the bus.

  • grammar grrrr

    The saddest part is…all the typos. I’m a bus driver and these assaults happen all the time. What stood out for me in this article was that it was poorly written. How do you expect people to take your reporting seriously with all the typos that occur in the article?

  • Anonymous

    The Mta does not allow and want us to protect ourselves the only thing being done is after the assault happens they need something when the salt is taking place like a pair of handcuffs pepper spray and a stun gun

  • Correy Smith

    Establish a ZERO-TOLERANCE policy for passengers regarding their ridiculous behavior and paying the fare. Drivers get tired of dealing with STUPID PEOPLE who think it’s “OWED” to them. It’s a service not a right. If they can’t conduct themselves like decent human beings then they don’t deserve to ride. I have been in transportation for many years and the people just keep getting worse. NO FARE…NO RIDE. Get belligerent…bus is pulled over, police are called, you are removed and told to never board this bus again or you’ll be arrested for trespassing.

  • Greg Isabel

    The problem here is with RTD management and their training program to expect an entire group of workers (bus operators) to want them to do nothing if assaulted! I know as I passed all the tests, got hired as I really wanted to be a train operator after probation, and the instructor kept stressing to us in class how we were not to even so much as “roll our eyes” if someone spit in our face, spilled hot coffee in our lap purposely or we would be fired as there are cameras filming everything! How ridiculous is that?

    I objected in class, knowing that we would get the worst routes in the city as new drivers, and was told “Well you can call your dispatch but they’re going to tell you to wipe your face and keep driving”! Really? Spitting in someone’s face is considered assault in all 50 states! In talking to management in Atlanta about their MARTA bus/train operations, they told me this would never be tolerated. Management is the group at RTD that needs to teach the public that respect for all of their employees and respect for fellow passengers is the only thing that will be tolerated!

    Aside from this after hours of classroom instruction we were all expected to drive a 40-ft bus for the first time with absolutely no break at all for lunch for the entire 6 weeks of training! I called the DOT about this policy and was able to get it changed as no driver should be denied a proper lunch break so as to add to the possibility of endangering themselves or the general public—Reluctantly I had to quit as I do have SOME self-respect and common sense…….

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