GRTC Pulse officially launches. Here’s what to know

GRTC drivers speaking out about safety concerns after ‘bloody’ bus attack

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Earlier in May, CBS 6 told the story of a former GRTC driver who said her life was changed forever after a bloody attack while driving a bus in April of 2015.

Sherri Braxton said the bus attack was the most terrifying experience of her life. She was stabbed after a confrontation with an unruly passenger.

Now, more GRTC drivers are coming forward to speaking out about the dangers they say they face when they’re behind the wheel.

“I didn’t want to watch it because I know the victim personally,” said one GRTC driver.

"It was a prime example of how quickly we can become victims of a crime," said another.

GRTC drivers

A group of men and women who drive GRTC buses every day said they can empathize with a Braxton, who was attacked by a passenger.

"They can become combative. They can become destructive," a driver told CBS 6 reporter Sandra Jones.

The drivers wanted us to conceal their identities, because they say the union has told them not to talk to the media.

"We offer the best customer service out there as far as many other professions. But as far as anger management, sometimes people come at you. And you don’t have to say a word to them."

After watching our story detailing Braxton’s frightening experience, the group is speaking exclusively to CBS 6 about their safety concerns.

"They don’t tell you nothing about that in training. They don’t tell you, you’re going to get urine thrown on you, or you’re going to get spit at,” a driver said. “You’re going to get stabbed, or you might get shot.  They tell you, you might have to deal with some rude customers."

Sherri Braxton and Maurice Mason

Sherri Braxton and Maurice Mason

After the attack in 2015, Sherrie Braxton was given 12 weeks paid leave and returned to work. She said GRTC sought to terminate her for violating the weapons policy.

Braxton said she was reinstated after the union got involved, but twice had her worker's compensation claim denied by the state.

Last month, Braxton resigned from the company and vowed to never drive a bus again.

Earlier this month, CBS 6 sat down with GRTC Communications Director Carrie Rose Pace to discuss how bus drivers are trained to deal with unruly and potentially dangerous passengers.

When asked, would she say that bus drivers are safe on their routes? Rose Pace said yes. “I would say that they are safe on their routes. Why? We think that they... The incident rate it-self shows that we operate safely.”

Rose Pace said attacks on GRTC bus drivers are very rare.

Carrie Rose Pace

Carrie Rose Pace

GRTC services 8.3 million riders a year, and there have been only six reported incidents in the past three years.

"Anytime, there’s an incident of course it’s concerning to GRTC.  And that’s why everything is investigated and we proactively make sure that we’re training our operators to handle those situations to the best of our ability and their ability before they’re faced with that situation," Rose Pace explained.

Rose Pace said bus operators go through weeks of classroom training and de-escalation exercises, but rules agreed to by both GRTC and the union forbid drivers from carrying weapons to protect themselves.

GRTC

Each bus is outfitted with multiple security cameras, and drivers are instructed to push an emergency button if they feel they are in danger.

"What happens in the radio room is that you can then hear what’s happening inside the bus,” Rose Pace said. “The audio is immediately broadcast to the radio dispatcher.  So, that even if the operator is in distress and unable to communicate with the radio dispatcher, they’ll be able to hear what’s going on."

In 2011, GRTC hired off-duty police officers to monitor passengers on city buses. But that was short lived, because of money.

"You look at where transit police are employed and it’s usually in larger cities, larger transit agencies and specifically transit authorities where funding is far less of an issue," Rose Pace explained.

Cameras on buses

"Are you going to push the Union to do more on your behalf?” CBS 6 reporter Sandra Jones asked the GRTC bus drivers.

All four drivers said ‘yes.’

While bus operators are prohibited from carrying weapons, they want GRTC to do more to protect their fellow driver, sooner than later.

“We’re hoping that they (GRTC) get to see this and that they think long and hard. We got to get up and we got to go to work again,” one driver said.

CBS 6 reached out to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1220 that represents GRTC bus drivers.  The President Frank Tunstall, tells CBS 6 there are ongoing discussions about safety concerns. He said at next month’s meeting, the union will look into better ways to address the concerns in the future.