The MBTA’s Testing Out a New Protective Barrier On One Bus

It's meant to keep the spitters and punchers from harming the drivers.

Photo via MBTA

Photo via MBTA

The MBTA is putting some new security measures to the test in direct response to a series of assaults on bus drivers in recent years. On Tuesday, transit officials announced that a specially made barrier would be installed on one of the T’s buses to help protect employees from falling victim to aggressive passengers—an alarming trend that has left some operators fearful while on the clock.

The agency’s Bus Operations personnel worked with the engineering staff from a company called Arrow Corporation to design a prototype “operator protection barrier” to thwart future attacks, according to T Spokesman Joe Pesaturo. The see-through material creates a blockade between the employees sitting behind a bus steering wheel, and the passengers stepping onto the vehicle when paying their fare.

The shield-like separator, something MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott indicated she would look into when she was first brought on board as the head of the MBTA in 2012, will be in use on a single vehicle as part of a 90-day trial. Various employees will drive the bus on multiple routes throughout the area to test out the new security feature. At the conclusion of the three-month trial, they will then offer feedback on how well it worked so T officials can decide if they want to implement similar protective partitions on additional buses moving forward. “If the prototype is considered an effective deterrent, protective barriers could become standard equipment on new buses purchased in the future,” officials said in a statement.

The installation of the shield comes after frequent reports of assaults on T bus drivers raised serious concerns for administrators. In 2013, the transit agency reported 43 of its bus employees were attacked on the job while trying to operate a vehicle. From January 1 to May 5 of that year, there were 14 total assaults alone. In comparison, during that same time period in 2014 there have been 13 reported attacks on T bus drivers. Many of those incidents, which included punching or spitting, were caught on video. The altercations often stem from drivers refusing to allow commuters on the bus without paying the fare.

The transit agency has stepped up its security measures in other ways this year, as well. In February, officials announced they have plans to retrofit 225 buses in their fleet with new high-tech cameras that show the insides of the vehicles from multiple angles. Money to pay for the cameras came in the form of a $7 million federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

Prior to that announcement, in 2012 the T launched an aggressive flier campaign and plastered 300 posters on buses reminding riders to respect, and be nice to, the drivers. That initiative was followed up by another push to prevent passengers from laying a hand on T employees in 2013, which featured decals on the backs of bus seats warning commuters that assaulting or interfering with a driver’s duties could lead to an arrest and subsequent jail time.

Arrow Corporation, the company that makes the protective barrier, has also worked with officials in New York City to install a similar protective barrier system on the MTA’s bus fleet.