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Another Perspective on Reducing Driver Assaults

During my 21 years in the operator’s seat I was assaulted three times, once by another driver. I clearly understand and sympathize with how confronting and fearful it can be. Nonetheless, I disagree with the knee jerk solutions offered by transit authorities. Additional security cameras only give evidence after the fact and do not protect the driver in the moment of assault. The implementation of plexiglass shields on buses is akin to walling up your children so they won’t get hurt. Both of these “solutions” fly in the face of the multi-faceted services drivers provide.

Like the first astronauts who insisted to NASA that they were more than simply smarter monkeys in a cockpit, I believe that bus drivers are so much more than simply part of the machinery of the bus that gets the public to their destinations safely and on time. Our accessibility to the public puts us in a rare and unique position: whether we realize it or not, we are the unofficial guides and ambassadors to our cities. Our friendliness, or lack of it, sets the tone to the kind of city we live in to visitors and citizens alike.

It was this public service opportunity that most affected me on the day that I took a hand held tally counter to work and realized with a shock that I personally picked up somewhere in the vicinity of 170,000 people annually. That was a lot of people who were “under my influence”. And it changed who I was as a bus driver. From that day forward I made it my mission to make a positive difference in the lives of each and everyone of the people who hopped onto my bus.

I developed what I called in my book The Art of Acknowledgement and made a point of acknowledging each passenger with reverence, respect, kindness and tact. In the next 10 years I gave each of the 1.9 million people that I as a bus driver got to meet: a greeting, a hello, a smile, a handshake, a high five or occasionally a hug. It changed lives—not all—but enough to alter mine.

Now I am a bus driver on a mission. My mission is to inspire other drivers to be a shining positive light in what can sometimes be a dark world. It’s a simple connection, but that is exactly what we in our frenzied modern world crave: more authentic connection.

Of course, I hear you asking, “What has this to do with driver assaults?” I believe with proper training drivers can learn to manage the atmosphere on their bus. I believe that fear-based, “Don’t Touch the Operator” campaigns create exactly the kind of distance and non-involvement that increase the sense of isolation that lack of involvement that leads to dangerous situations on buses. Millions and millions of passengers are friendly, kind, gracious, appreciative and grateful to the drivers for getting them to their destinations safely and pleasantly. What about implementing a “We Care About Each Other Program” inviting people to take responsibility for everyone on “their” bus every time they ride one. When we encourage the best in others, we usually see it. And, by personally interacting with passengers we as drivers create a far more effective support system than any plexiglass shield can provide. Is it 100% effective? It would be foolish to think that any device or system is, but we all know from experience what it is like to step into an unsafe or into a welcoming environment.

Just three weeks before I retired I spoke to a very gruff looking passenger who looked like he had just been beaten up. I asked him about the jacket he was wearing and it opened up a conversation. Within a couple of bus stops he stepped forward to protect me from a very irate, possibly mentally unstable, passenger. When you build rapport, you also create safety for both driver and passengers alike.

And for drivers to see themselves in a new light as ambassadors for change gives them a higher purpose. This improves their attitude both on and off the job. I personally have experienced the profound results and positive feedback on how “The Art of Acknowledgement” has changed so many of my passengers lives in positive ways. As Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

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