An OC Transpo driver was punched in the face Friday afternoon by a passenger who was angered by the bus operator’s refusal to drop him off between regular stops.
The assailant forced open the doors and fled after hitting the driver in the face, possibly breaking his nose.
Ottawa police and paramedics responded to the emergency call during Friday’s rush hour. The bus operator had by then stopped his vehicle on St. Laurent Boulevard and Tremblay Road.
Troy Charter, OC Transpo’s director of transit operations, said the incident happened at about 4:30 p.m.
“While at an intersection, a customer asked the bus driver to disembark,” Charter said in a statement. “When the operator responded that it was unsafe to let them off in an intersection, the passenger struck the operator and exited the bus.”
Both Ottawa police and OC Transpo’s special constables are still investigating the incident. The assailant, last seen walking south on St. Laurent, had not been arrested by Friday night.
“Any act of violence is not tolerated and taken very seriously,” said Charter. “The safety and security of our employees and customers is our number one priority.”
The incident is likely to renew calls to improve bus driver safety.
In December, OC Transpo drivers asked that protective shields be installed on city buses because of a rising tide of violence. Clint Crabtree, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, said there were more than 100 assaults in 2017, up from 87 assaults in 2016.
“People need to be going home to their families without being assaulted at work,” Crabtree said.
Bus drivers face both verbal and physical assaults, he said, noting it’s common for passengers to spit on drivers. Sometimes, the issue is the cost of a fare or the late arrival of a bus, Crabtree said, but often mental health issues are involved.
In 2013, Ottawa’s transit commission voted to equip newly purchased buses with security cameras, but there has been resistance to protective shields because they reduce the contact between drivers and passengers.
Transit drivers in Toronto now have the option of using an on-board shield, and B.C. Transit recently started testing a full door to protect its operators. Installing the barriers can cost between $1,500 and $3,000 per vehicle.
In 2013, OC Transpo estimated that installing protective shields on the entire fleet would cost between $2 million and $4 million.