In light of Monday's shooting of a King County Metro Transit bus driver, plenty of people are asking why drivers aren't protected by bulletproof glass.
"That's a conversation we have from time to time," said King County Executive Dow Constantine in an interview with KIRO Radio. "It's not a budgetary issue, [but] an issue of working with the drivers for the setup that's best for them."
The Amalgamated Transit Union local in Seattle has rejected calls for protective enclosures, although they have been installed in buses in other cities.
"The problem is in order to do them well, they have to be done as the bus is engineered, not after market," said Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union. "They often make the drivers feel claustrophobic and cut down on ventilation and circulation of air, so they have not been universally well received."
Bus drivers nationwide and in Canada have seen an increasing number of attacks in recent years, Hanley said. Metro Transit drivers reported 107 attacks in 2012, a sharp increase over the 85 reported by drivers in 2010.
Transit agencies nationwide have installed shields to protect drivers, including New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Metro tested shields on approximately 30 buses with over 300 drivers during a pilot project in 2010, according to Paul Bachtel, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local in Seattle.
Ultimately, the union executive board voted against continuing it based on driver reaction and concerns about "glare, obstructions between the shield and the outside mirrors for driving the bus safely, a change in the relationship between the operator and the passengers that we thought would cause more problems, not solve problems," Bachtel said.
The international union is advocating for new security enclosures and other measures including left side doors for quick driver exits from a bus and an increased number of police officers and other security added to all transit agencies, including Metro, which partners with the King County Sheriff's Office to provide 64 uniformed and plain clothes officers throughout the system.
"We work with the drivers to identify the ways in which they can have safety and mobility. It's a conversation we often have and this will undoubtedly renew that," Constantine said.
The shooting is the worst on a Metro bus since November 28, 1998, when a man shot a driver twice as the bus crossed the Aurora Bridge. The bus plunged 50 feet off the bridge into a Fremont apartment building below. The driver, Mark McLauglin, and another passenger died. Thirty-two passengers were injured.
Despite Monday's shooting, Constantine insists Metro Transit remains safe. And he argues attacks on drivers have actually declined this year, thanks to new training.
"The fact is that we carry millions of people on a regular basis and very rarely do we have a serious incident," said Constantine.
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