Norfolk, Va. - Earlier this month, NewsChannel 3 investigated reports of Hampton Roads Transit bus drivers getting attacked on city buses.
HRT told NewsChannel 3 that from January of 2013 to this month, there were seven reported assaults and 85 reports of verbal harassments or threats.
After seeing the report, drivers called NewsChannel 3 and called those numbers a joke.
In response to our questions about those reports, HRT explained its protocol on how drivers are trained and how buses are equipped with panic buttons to alert dispatch to trouble on board.
We then gathered all our concerns and took them up the food chain to the CEO of Hampton Roads Transit and the Secretary of Transportation to ask them to take action.
Now, HRT CEO William Harrell is asking his risk management team to take a second look at the math.
“If they need to be tweaked, they will be tweaked. Our bottom line is operator safety is a priority for Hampton Roads Transit and we’ll share that with the public,” he says.
Drivers tell NewsChannel 3, and the Union confirms, that their operators have been spat on, had objects thrown at them and those instances are not counted as assaults by HRT.
They go to say those who complain are written up or lose their jobs.
We took the driver concerns to Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne.
“Knowing that you have brought it to my attention, I will look into it because getting our people around and the safety of our drivers is extremely important. So I can only say if we are not taking the right steps, I will take a look to see what we need to do,” he says.
Unlike the Tide, where operators do not have direct contact with passengers, bus drivers are exposed with no protection.
Drivers say they are instructed not to defend themselves, even if physically attacked and those who protect themselves run the risk of losing their jobs.
“Certainly there's been some discussion about maybe putting some type of enclosure to protect the operator. That's gotten mixed reviews across the county, so we intend to work with the union and the general public to make sure that's a priority,” says Harrell.
Amanda Sawyer Malone, the Union representative for the HRT operators says out of a fleet of 300, HRT has agreed to order 32 buses equipped with partitions that separate drivers from passengers. But she admits there is no timetable on when that equipment will arrive.