Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How much can bus operators reasonably be expected to do?

A 29-year-old man was stabbed on an OC Transpo bus this past Friday, June 12, after a confrontation over bus seats escalated into criminal actions. The victim, who was left with a partially-collapsed lung, was sitting in the back end of an articulated bus when the conflict came up. In an Ottawa Citizen article published today, the victim's father suggested that the bus operator failed to recognize the gravity of the situation, and had the opportunity to prevent the stabbing. But realistically, how many tasks can we expect our bus operators to manage simultaneously?

Here's a run-down of the situation from the Citizen article, as well as the comments from the victim's father:
[Dan] McGlynn, wearing a large cast on his leg, said he had been sitting in the side-facing seats at the back of the bus, and had put his crutches over a forward-facing seat beside him because they kept falling down. The bus, McGlynn said, was “not full, but it definitely wasn’t empty.”

McGlynn, a construction worker, said an argument started after a female boarded the bus around Montreal Road and Carson’s Road and asked him to move his crutches, which were occupying both seats.

McGlynn said he moved the crutches over, clearing one seat, where the female’s friend sat, but she wanted both seats cleared.

The pair argued, McGlynn said. He said he told the female he couldn’t move the crutches further before she kicked his injured ankle.

They argued more and the female kicked his ankle twice more, he said.

McGlynn said he warned the female he would have to defend himself before she pulled out a knife and threatened to stab and kill him.

McGlynn said he remembered trying to grab the knife before feeling as though he had been punched in the ribs. He said he fell back in the seat and saw her coming at him again before he pushed her back with his foot.

Another man grabbed the female from behind, McGlynn said. By that time, the bus had stopped at Blair and Montreal Roads. The doors were open and the female fled, McGlynn said.


“This went from verbal to physical to near-death,” John McGlynn said, praising the work of emergency crews and hospital staff.

“Could this have been avoided? Not to place blame, but had the bus driver recognized this immediately — he’s human like anybody else — but if he’d stopped this bus, it could have. Would it? I don’t know, but it could have,” he said.

“We need to look at prevention.”
Definitely an unfortunate incident, and it would certainly be nice if there were enough eyes on a bus to nip incidents such as this in the bud. But it's worth thinking about exactly what we already ask of our operators, and whether or not it's reasonable or even feasible for them to monitor potentially violent confrontations and get involved in some way.

In this particular instance, the driver was operating on a 60-foot-long vehicle with a point of articulation between himself and the actual incident, with dozens of people riding it, through rush-hour traffic, while making scheduled stops and monitoring those who get on or off the bus through three doors to ensure proper fares are paid.

The length of time it took for this incident to escalate is not printed, so it's hard to know what time window the driver had since the voices were raised until the stabbing occured. But whether it was several minutes or a half an hour, few rational people would assume that a yelling match over a seat on the bus would escalate into a stabbing, so I can't personally fault the driver for not assuming the worst would happen. And even if the driver were to have stopped the bus, OC Transpo policy is--understandably--for the operator to stay seated and call for police response.

Ottawa's bus operators have been through some rough patches of late. But before we fault the operators for what may seem like preventable incidents, we need to consider exactly what we're expecting these individuals to handle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe the operator was preoccupied with making sure the correct stops were being called out.