Metro’s efforts to improve bus operator safety

Metro Board Member Diane DuBois speaks at this morning's press event. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Metro Board Member Diane DuBois speaks at this morning’s press event. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Key stat: Bus operators were assaulted 138 times by passengers in 2014, a 35 percent increase since 2012. With about 345 million annual bus boardings, assaults are still relatively rare — but not rare enough.

As part of this effort, Metro bus riders will notice protective barriers to protect bus operators on some buses, buses with video monitors showing activity on the bus and automated announcements providing fare information to reduce disputes over fares between passengers and operators.

Here is the news release from Metro:


To improve safety and security for employees and passengers, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today introduced engineering, educational and law enforcement enhancements that promise to reduce incidents of assaults against Metro’s 4,000 bus operators and improve security for passengers.

Metro has about 345 million annual bus boardings. In 2014 there were 138 assaults by passengers against operators. Typically the assaults involved passengers punching and kicking operators when they are at bus stops or layover zones but weapons have been used, and the number of assaults are up 35 percent from 2012, a trend that Metro officials are determined to reverse.

Bus operators: show them some respect, please!

Bus operators: show them some respect, please!

“Angelenos can feel safe riding Metro, and we are committed to keeping it that way,” said Los       Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti.  “Our strategy is to strengthen enforcement and increase the use of technology so that both operators and passengers feel secure on Metro buses.”

Metro is instituting a strategy called the Three Es, Engineering, Education and Enforcement that include technology, advanced training and new efforts by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

Starting in March, Metro began receiving new buses equipped with a driver’s compartment protected by a polycarbonate safety barrier. Safety barriers are not new to the transit industry, but improved designs provide more space for the operator. Metro is expecting to receive 123 buses during the next few months with safety barriers.

Also on the engineering front Metro continues making progress installing CCTV monitors on buses with about 166 equipped. One monitor is placed above the bus operator so riders see themselves boarding and another monitor is installed on the bulkhead showing activity in the seating area. The configuration lets passengers see what security cameras record. It is believed that potential law breakers, viewing themselves on video monitors, are less likely to commit crimes.  Installation began in November 2014 and on lines where CCTV monitors were utilized, the number of crimes, particularly assaults against bus operators, dropped dramatically. By mid- June Metro expects 268 buses with CCTV monitors to be in service. 

The protective barriers that will be installed on some Metro buses. Photo by Anna Chen/Metro.

The protective barriers that will be installed on some Metro buses. Photo by Anna Chen/Metro.

“The installation of CCTV monitors is a visual indication to potential law breakers that they are being watched and the prospect of almost certain arrest is enough to prevent many criminals from committing offenses,” said Metro Board member Diane DuBois.

Metro has also automated the fare announcement that passengers hear when they board the bus. Studies show that one-third of assaults against bus operators occurred as a result of fare disputes.

Education is another effort. In April, Metro launches a pilot program in Division 18 in Carson, to educate bus operators on ways to defuse potentially dangerous situations. The program, called Transit Ambassador, is a transit-specific customer service curriculum used by 50 transit agencies in the U.S. and has been proven successful in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean.

“As a former bus operator myself, I know the anxiety operators feel,” said Metro CEO Art Leahy. “Transit Ambassador focuses on customer experience and provides ways for operators to manage stress in their lives. I believe the training will help operators at work and at home.”

Metro is launching an outreach called “Meet Metro’s Best” on buses and trains to humanize front-line employees by highlighting operators and mechanics with a personal story.  In addition, bus operators will soon be wearing lapel pins with the message “Mutual Respect.”

Tougher enforcement is another key element. Assaults on bus operators can have devastating effects on victims and their families, and, in some cases, prevent the operator from returning to service. Current penalties for assaulting operators call for up to one year in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000. To help better protect them, Metro is working with State Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) to sponsor SB 391, which would triple penalties for assaults against operators and require those convicted to spend more time in prison.

“Providing a safe transit system for our passengers and transit operators is our responsibility,” said Metro Board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich. “Increasing sentences for those assaulting our operators sends a strong message.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s (LASD) Transit Policing Division (TPD), which patrols the Metro system, conducted a pilot study in November and December, 2014 during which uniformed and plain clothes deputies saturated specific bus lines in East Los Angeles Division 10 to concentrate on fare enforcement and other offenses. LASD uses intelligence-led policing to target potential trouble spots and partners with municipal police agencies in all L.A. County communities. However, LASD advises that with the size of Metro’s system, deputies can’t be everywhere and empowering riders to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement keeps the system safe. 

“Metro is like a moving city with about 450,000 residents and we want riders to view other riders as neighbors,” said TPD Commander Mike Claus. “If one neighbor sees another in need, for example, if a person requires medical attention, or if someone has been the victim of a crime we want to hear from you. Use our mobile app, call 911 or 888-950-SAFE (7233).”

Media: more photos on our Flickr page. Please feel free to download and use.