Monday, November 12, 2007


T he recent increase in crime connected with the MAX light-rail trains in the areas around Portland, Gresham and Beaverton has me concerned. I have lived here for over 50 years, and I cannot think of a time when there has been so much violence.

As a TriMet bus driver for the past 10 years, I have had knives and guns pulled on me. I have been hit numerous times in the head with fists and even cell phones. I have had riders spit and bleed on me. None of these incidents ever made it into the news. Other drivers have had to wait on pins and needles for months at a time to find out whether they have been exposed to hepatitis C or HIV. Some drivers have even been shot or knifed.

TriMet rules specifically address what drivers are to do when an incident happens on their bus. We are to push a button on our Bus Dispatch System (BDS) and then answer all the questions that we are asked by Dispatch while they determine if a police presence is needed. If so, they contact 9-1-1 to report the incident. We may evacuate the bus and our passengers, but we can only defend ourselves as a last resort. We then wait for a TriMet road supervisor or police to show up.

I just recently had an incident on my bus involving teenagers who were being loud, disrespectful and unruly in the back of the bus. They had been asked numerous times by others around them to settle down. but they responded to passengers and myself in the usual form; swearing and calling us names. I told them that they would be asked to leave the bus if it continued.

When I arrived at the MAX station on 82nd Avenue, a developmentally disabled lady came up to me and complained about the kids. They were calling her and a male friend, also developmentally disabled, names and making jest of their disabilities. When I told them that they needed to leave the bus immediately, they got up and a girl started beating on the woman, who had returned to her seat, and a young boy began beating the elderly man. I pushed an emergency button on my BDS and contacted Dispatch, requesting police. As I turned back toward them I saw the kids were finally leaving the bus.

The teens were not caught and my passengers got onto another bus to continue their trip. I asked all of the passengers to fill out TriMet Courtesy Cards to provide information about they what saw or heard, but only one would fill out the cards. More than 30 people on the bus and nobody wanted to help these folks. (The only passenger that filled out a card was legally blind, even though he has some vision.) I waited with our road supervisor while the police finished speaking to the injured passengers, and then I proceeded to take them to where they wanted to go.

Does TriMet provide enough security on the train? Well, I think the question also should include buses. We are the ones on the front line; criminals get off MAX and run for a bus or vice versa. Can we as bus drivers do anything about violence on our bus? Not really. What can TriMet do? Well, let's take a look at what we have now.

TriMet does not employ police or security personnel. It contracts with police agencies in the metro area to provide "transit police." These officers have the authority to hold someone for questioning, to help passengers and to assist operators. But they are not always available, and they still have their individual agencies to respond to.

TriMet does have fare inspectors, though, and while these folks can cite persons for fare evasion, they do not have the authority to hold someone until police arrive. The fare inspectors provide a presence of authority on the MAX trains that deters potential criminal acts. But very seldom do they come onto the bus. Fare evaders, who are the primary source of criminal acts, know this. The potential criminal also knows that drivers' hands are tied and that we cannot exclude them from getting on the bus. This allows them to move freely around the city.

So, the question is what can be done about these issues? Maybe we need to hold parents just as responsible for their children's crime as the children. Maybe we need to speed up our justice system to punish criminals. Maybe we need to stop being so open about letting homeless people, drug addicts and wayward teenagers have their way with the system and society. Maybe we need to make crime punishable instead of writing a ticket and hoping people show up for court.

All I know is that as a bus operator I sometimes am afraid to drive. There is enough on my plate just worrying about what the driver next to me is about to do or if a bicyclist is going to fall under my wheels. I should not have to worry for the safety of those inside my bus also.

TriMet and our cities should worry about buses, too. Security for everyone is needed.

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