TAMPA, Fla. — Verbal altercations are on the rise for HART bus operators. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority leaders told board members Monday more bus drivers are reporting passenger threats that included either killing them or cutting their throat.
“The change we’re seeing is this threatening language of killing some of our operators, we are seeing that throughout our system,” said Colin Mulloy, the Director of Safety and Security for HART. “It’s not unheard of for an operator for the past three months to hear that someone is going to cut their throat, that someone is going to stab them, that someone is going to kill them.”
Mulloy says between October and December, 40% of the verbal altercations were threatening, while 60% were riders cursing at drivers.
Between that same time, according to the agency's safety update, an operator was hit on the head while trying to break up a fight between two teens. Water and hot chocolate were thrown at two others drivers.
“We are this community, we transport this community,” said Mulloy. “The people that provide this service are really great public servants.”
Mulloy says they’re paying close attention to safety again this year. They will provide more training to operators and staff, which includes working with local agencies that handle folks dealing with mental health issues.
“As a social service provider that transit is on the front line — our employees do come in contact with the mental health community. How do we give them the tools to interact with that community so they are in a position to succeed?” Colin asked.
He says bus drivers have also expressed a want for police officers on the buses.
“We are working through that,” Mulloy said. “We have done a pilot with our security guards and having them on some of the selected routes.”
He says they may not get one for all 133 routes, but wants drivers to know they are listening.
So far, HART has enacted these safety changes since the death of a bus driver, Thomas Dunn, in 2019.
• Quarterly Safety Trainings
• Certified Operation Instructor Academy
• Safety Day Of Action
• S.A.F.E Campaign • Security Surveillance System
• Armed Security Guard Services
• HCSO Security Training
• Ride With Respect Campaign
• Enhanced Signage on Buses
• Safety Shields Installed on Fixed Route Fleet
• TPD Presence at Targeted Locations (Pilot)
• Contracted Security Guards Aboard Specific Bus Routes (Pilot)
• Transit Worker Assault Legislation
• Trespass Notification Update
• Revised Fare Collection Standard Operating Procedure
For 2020, the agency plans to enact the following changes:
• Quarterly Safety Trainings By Mode
• Safety Blitz/ Awareness Programs
• Safe Driving Observations by Management
• Cross Department Route Review Team
• Operator/Staff Coaching
• Software Implementation
• Mental Health Education