The savage attack on bus driver Tom Bregg has raised a lot of questions among riders and Edmontonians in general, but the main one is rather simple: Why?
The attack was random and completely unwarranted, which explains the public outcry. Acts of violence aren’t especially uncommon, but the circumstances give this one an “it-could-have-been-me” quality.
Another question, asked loudest by the drivers’ union, is “why don’t ETS buses have plexiglass shields yet?”
The short answer is they’re still being tested. A longer answer is they’re only just showing up in Toronto and are pretty rare, even in the U.S.
Shields raise some big questions for me. I’m concerned by their dehumanizing effect, not only cutting off the friendly contact between drivers and passengers, but sending a message that transit is dangerous.
Often, the perception that something is unsafe makes it unsafe, like warnings to avoid a particular part of town. Whether the danger is real or imagined, staying away gives any negative elements the run of the place.
I can’t help but worry the same is true with shields. Driving with the shield closed is essentially an admission that you think your route is dangerous and your passengers are liable to try something.
Whether current riders take it personally or not, and I think many subconsciously will, it’s not a great message for new riders. It might even entice people to act out, knowing it wouldn’t be entirely unexpected.
And while the drivers may be protected, the passengers sure aren’t. If anything, they could be worse off; it’s hard for drivers to give the illusion of control from behind glass.
Drivers could, of course, just leave them open, but I wonder how well that would work for random attacks and whether they would be able to close the shield fast enough.
That being said, the things only run about $1,000, meaning outfitting the fleet should be less than $1 million. In the grand scheme of things, that’s nothing.
If drivers want shields, they should have them. At the same time, I still like to think Edmonton is a city where shields aren’t necessary and bus drivers don’t really want to use them.