Durham bus drivers want more safety features in buses improved

GoDurham Bus Drivers Bobby Taylor (behind), David Harris (right) and Calvin Sprauve (Left) (Photographed by Amina Accram)

Durham, NC- Bus drivers in Durham, N.C are calling for enhanced safety measures on buses in the wake of increasing crime levels in the city. While there have been only one reported cases of bus driver assault over the past year, drivers are urging city officials to prioritize safety measures. 

Violent passengers are pushing many bus drivers across the country to stay away from their jobs, according to data from the American Public Transport Association. Assault against bus operators tripled from 2009 to 2020, according to the Federal Transit Administration. 

In 2021, bus drivers employed by the public transit system GoDurham, presented a list of safety concerns to the Durham City Council. The drivers wanted improved safety measures, citing unruly passengers and driver assaults. 

The City of Durham Department of Transportation recorded five assaults on bus drivers in 2022. This year they have reported only one assault. Incidents on board buses decreased from 74 in 2022 to 55 this year. On board assaults is generally disturbances and rule violations, such as unruly behavior and playing loud music, according to Brenda Jones, senior director at GoDurham. 

GoDurham bus drivers are requesting the installation of metal detectors on buses to identify passengers carrying weapons. North Carolina tightly regulates the carrying of concealed weapons on buses, making it illegal to carry a concealed weapon on a bus unless falling under specific categories as stated by the law. 

Khadem Rockymore is a 20-year-old GoDurham bus driver. He is concerned about individuals carrying guns. 

“I noticed in the summertime there are some kids wearing bulky jackets and I am not stupid. I see people getting on the bus all the time wearing those bulky jackets and its hot outside and they probably have a gun,” he said. 

Additionally, bus drivers are advocating for faster police response times when calling 911 or activating the panic button, safety measures installed in all buses. 

David Harris, a bus driver, said it is important to have a functioning direct line to the command centre.

“If your radio is not working that radio don’t mean nothing. if you press that button the response time from the police is terrible. When I was training with my trainer, it took them about an hour to get to where I was. We are dealing with a lot of people with mental illness and substance use disorders,” he said. 

Bus drivers stressed the importance of extending the flexi glass barrier protection, citing regular altercations two to three times a week on buses especially, during late hours. 

The bus drivers specifically highlighted route three as a notorious route where altercations regularly occur and need to be closely monitored. Route three starts at Holloway Street and ends at the Walmart at Glenn View station, passing between Roxboro Street and Highway 70, including an area of the Village Shopping Centre, where violent crimes and shootings have frequently been reported. 

“When you first get hired here, they warn you about the village, about going through and working on the village, that’s how bad it is because they have shootings over there, stuff like that but not recently,” said Harris. 

Some bus drivers say some of their colleagues have reported physical assaults. However, they are not aware if these incidents have been officially reported. 

“While we have cabin shields for our safety, originally installed due to COVID 19, we don’t know if some passengers are carrying guns. We need metal detectors to ensure safety on board. My main problem is firearms. I have also witnessed people taking items and fleeing the bus,” said Bobby Taylor, 42, his colleague. 

“The cabin shields are not bullet proof and they do not extend far enough for our protection. At nighttime or around five O’clock that is when the kids get out of school and they tend to come around the bus station a lot,” said Rockymore. 

GoDurham bus driver Khadem Rockymore demonstrates why he wants the flexi glass barrier protection extended. (photographed by Amina Accram)

Attacks on the decline 

The City of Durham Department of Transportation reports a decline in assaults on its bus drivers. It also increased law enforcement oversight at the Durham Central bus station with three police officers present after 7 p.m and on weekends. 

“In the case of major violations such as an operator being threatened or fighting Durham’s Police Departments is called, however, individual(s) flee the scene before the police arrive,” said City of Durham director of Transportation Sean Egan. 

Despite concerns, GoDurham says the cabin shields have proven to be effective against attacks.

“Our driver’s safety is the uttermost importance to us. We are taking possession of our brand-new buses, and they are equipped with the same safety features that our current busses have,” said Jones. 

Jones believes Durham city will have to reconfigure all their buses if it they have to install metal detectors.

“That would be an enormous cost. I don’t see them reconfigure the buses. We have brand new buses, and they don’t have metal detectors,” she said. 

GoDurham management says they have increased training and safety meetings for their bus drivers, focusing on de-escalation techniques. They have also urged their drivers to take safety precautions without compromising their well-being. 

“We actually train divers to not get out of their seat , and make those calls, not go after people. We ask them to take all safety precautions as possible. That one assault we had, it looks like the driver got out and chased the passenger,” said director Brenda Jones. 

Violent crime in Durham decreased by seven percent year-over-year last year but shootings were up 20%, according to the Durham Police Department. 

“I believe Durham management as far as safety is concerned. Sometimes I think will I make it home, but I don’t let that get to me because I am a Christian and I believe in God. As long as I pray up about my day and do not intervene with those kinds of people than I will be okay,” concluded Rockymore.