Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Halifax Metro Transit Looking at Bus Cameras to Beef Up Security

THERE isn’t much argument today with the idea that we need more buses and trains and more people using them. This makes sense as a transportation policy, as an environmental strategy and as a way of lowering the cost of living.

But we have to make buses safer, too – for the hardworking people who drive them and for passengers.

The need for better security was driven home in Halifax this week when a female Metro Transit driver was sexually assaulted by a passenger on the Route 20 bus early Wednesday.

Police are looking for a man who got on the bus at the corner of Hebridean Drive and St. Pauls Avenue in Herring Cove at about 12:10 a.m. and who got off at Joseph Howe Drive. The suspect is described as white, 50ish, and weighing about 150 pounds. But if the bus had had a security camera, police would have better information with which to identify him. And maybe a camera would have deterred the assailant and protected the driver from this ugly and traumatic violation.

So Dan Macdonald, president of local 508 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, is right on the mark in urging Metro Transit to speed up the installation of cameras on its buses. Transit had planned to begin installing cameras this year and to have all 200 buses equipped by 2010. Spokeswoman Lori Patterson now says cameras will probably come sooner because of more assaults on drivers.

Quick action on cameras is warranted. And the additional deterrent of some transit security officers, as raised by Mayor Peter Kelly and Cole Harbour Councillor Harry McInroy, should be examined as well.

For the record of assaults is disturbing. In June, a driver was attacked in Dartmouth by men trying to steal transfers. Last year two drivers received head injuries in attacks. A 2007 Saint Mary’s study found 60 per cent of drivers reported being kicked, attacked with a weapon or threatened on the job.

The Halifax assaults reflect a national trend that includes shootings and beatings, prompting the transit workers union to press Parliament for greater on-the-job protection.

B.C. New Democrat MP Peter Julian has responded with a private member’s bill providing stiffer sentences for assaults on on-duty bus and transit operators. The bill allows for sentences of up to 20 years, mirroring Criminal Code penalties aimed at deterring assaults on police officers.

Similar protection for transit drivers is warranted because they are in a vulnerable position and their duties include ensuring the safety of the public, their passengers.

That’s a point emphasized by NDP Leader Jack Layton when he met The Chronicle Herald’s editorial board on the same day we reported the assault on the transit driver on page one.

Penalties "should be the same as if a police officer or emergency worker is assaulted," Mr. Layton said, because "people are particularly vulnerable who serve in these public roles."

Assaults on bus and transit operators "don’t always make the front pages," he said, "and I’m really glad your (story) was on the front page. There’s a lot more of this going on than people realize."

At least there are some good ideas for confronting this menace on several fronts – cameras, security officers and deterrent penalties. So let’s get it done.