RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Greater Richmond Transit Company wants better security for their operators and passengers following a recent incident of violence that involved one of their bus drivers.
GRTC came under scrutiny following a deadly shooting this month and a incident in which a rider assaulted one of its bus drivers in October.
GRTC CEO Julie Timm presented the company’s safety management program to Richmond’s public safety committee Tuesday. She proposed changes to city leaders which would involve new technology solutions and more presence from law enforcement agencies.
Timm blamed the pandemic for a heightened sense of aggravation among riders and bus drivers.
“With the federal mask mandate and with COVID and with the shortage of operators, we see an increased level of irritation and escalation of confrontations on our buses,” she said.
So far this year, Timm said staff reported one to five instances a month on average of verbal and physical altercations among riders or bus drivers that required involvement from management or police.
In early November, a man was shot to death on a GRTC bus during an argument with another rider. Just weeks before that in early October, a bus driver was assaulted by a rider.
“We’re incredibly sensitive to the pressure our operators are on under every day,” said Timm. “We’re incredibly sensitive to the pressure our riders are under everyday and we’re working to provide more tools for all of them.”
Timm said she’s looking at new technology solutions to provide better support to in-house operators. Although it’s still being reviewed, it would use live feed video that could help emergency responders assess a situation and respond faster. This would be added to the capital prioritization program.
She added that there’s interest in developing a similar program with police officers and the sheriff’s office. Under the program, uniformed officers would ride transit to and from neighborhoods as part of their regular duties, with the goal of engaging and developing relationships with riders and the community.
“Regardless of how much support we provide them they are out there on those buses alone,” she said.
GRTC is aiming to support a sense of security with these programs, but Timm said because of the cross-industry shortage of workers it will take some time to develop and implement them.