BC Transit has announced it will install full-driver doors -- which act as protective barriers between drivers and passengers -- for the majority of its large buses across the province to better protect drivers from incidents of assault.
The announcement follows a 2017 pilot project where the doors were tested on several buses in Victoria, Kelowna and Abbotsford.
John Palmer, director of safety and emergency management with BC Transit, said there are approximately 30 incidents of assault on its bus operators annually. The most common attacks are when drivers are hit or spit on, or have something thrown at them.
These numbers do not include verbal assaults or unreported incidents.
Palmer says despite various safety enhancements -- implementing radio systems and closed circuit television cameras, partnerships with first responders, and specialized driver training -- the assault rate has not gone down.
"Nobody's happy that we have to take this step, but the drivers expect to have a safe work environment," Palmer said.
"We're left with no other option than to look at an engineered safety device such as these doors."
The doors, which serve as a barrier between passengers and the bus driver, have a metal base with a tempered glass window that protects the upper half of the driver's space. The window can be adjusted a few inches up and down for sightlines.
They do not go all the way to the windshield, nor to the top of the roof of the bus.
BC Transit, which represents transit systems in communities outside of the Lower Mainland, has approximately 650 buses that will need to be retrofitted across the province. Buses that are scheduled for replacement will be replaced with new models that are already equipped with the full driver door.
Palmer says the design of the door strikes a balance between safety and still allowing positive interactions between customers and bus drivers.
"One of the reasons that people come to BC Transit to drive buses is because they love to work with individuals and people and they gain energy from that," Palmer said.
"We heard overwhelmingly during the pilot [from our bus operators] 'please don't take away our our ability to interact with our customers.'"
The project is expected to cost $6.5 million, with the retrofitting process starting in Victoria and then moving onto Kelowna.
The first bus doors will appear by the end of this year, and Palmer says the retrofitting process is expected to be completed by 2022.