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Tampa Bay area transit systems ask bus drivers for safety feedback

Posted at 5:09 PM, May 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-22 20:55:51-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Supervisors at Tampa Bay area transit systems are getting feedback from their bus drivers about how to better protect them.

This comes after Tampa police say HART bus driver Thomas Dunn was murdered. On Wednesday morning, HART sent an e-mail to higher-ups in the company to reinforce their policy when it comes to responding to operator concerns.

The e-mail from Ivan Maldonado, the Director of Transportation, said in part, “In light of the current climate, all calls from operators expressing concern for their safety are to be responded timely and with the utmost level of concern. Control center, for all calls of distress, unruly or dangerous riders, coordinate for the immediate response of transit supervisors and law enforcement to the scene. When responding, transit supervisors will investigate concerns thoroughly and if necessary with the aid of law enforcement unruly and or dangerous patrons are not to remain in the bus nor in our transit facilities."

That same conversation is happening in Pinellas County.

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"You don’t know who you’re picking up, what they’ve got on them, you don’t know what they’re going through,” said Kevin Sablan, who was behind the wheel of his Pinellas County bus two days after Dunn was killed.

He says an unruly passenger was on his bus and was arguing with other passengers and disrupting service.

"I intervened and I said look if you don’t stop you’re getting off the bus,” Sablan said after he pulled the bus over. He says the passenger continued cursing at him and other passengers so he sent an alert into dispatch.

Dunn was fresh on his mind, but Sablan says at one point, the man on his bus decided to bring up the incident that happened in Tampa.

"Does anybody have knives or guns on the bus?” Sablan said the passenger asked. "And then he says you know, you see what happened to that driver in Tampa?"

He says at that point he sent an emergency alert into dispatch.

“Yeah, I mean, I definitely took it as a threat,” he said. "I wasn’t getting a response so I finally went open air and said look I need the police, I’ve got an emergency here.”

James Bradford the Chief Operating Officer at Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority believes the situation was handled correctly by everyone involved.

"I’m going to say we reacted and responded in the correct way, the lack of time is the issue because if you perceive a threat you want to be responded to you right away,” he said. "On this particular day, we want to answer the call as quickly as you can, so who knows where in the queue that was but we always need to improve."

That's why on Wednesday, Bradford held a town hall meeting with PSTA bus drivers to get feedback on safety. Sablan would like to see response time training for dispatchers.

"If we weren’t fully awake already, we definitely are now,” said Bradford.

Next week, the Union for bus drivers in Pinellas County will meet in front of the PSTA board with bus drivers from around the Tapa Bay area to discuss safety changes. Their big push is to get glass enclosures around drivers.