Most of us don’t expect our lives to be threatened when we show up for work.
Neither did Paul Fitzpatrick when he started as a driver for Bus Éireann’s city service in Navan two years ago.
He had heard of increased attacks on colleagues when news broke last Sunday of an allegedly homophobic attack on a young man on a Dublin bus.
According to the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), anti-social behavior has plagued some of Co Meath’s routes, leading to one route being nicknamed the ‘Narcotics Express’.
“I had a passenger who lost it completely and kicked my cabin door and bent it and told me he was going to kill me,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
“It’s very intimidating. The windows of the bus were broken and there was blood everywhere.
Drivers are not bouncers. You are not security
“One woman said another passenger yelled at her children to ‘shut up’. I said, ‘I can’t hear what’s going on on the bus in a taxi and I can’t look in the mirror. I’m not allowed to get out of the taxi. I can only call the base’.
“Two or three nights ago someone threw a brick and broke the door of one of the buses. Luckily it didn’t hit anyone.”
It is vital to Mr. Fitzpatrick that, should an incident occur, Garda’s backup crew arrive quickly.
“The only backup you have on this bus is the Gardaí coming to your aid,” he said.
“You need it immediately. If the gardaí undresses someone, they disarm them, they’re gone.
“But if a passenger is really upset, then the situation spirals out of control.”
He added that drivers are unable to intervene physically, which often puts passengers in greater danger.
“Passengers may be even more at risk than we are,” he said.
“People expect us to get up from our seat and throw people off, but they might start fighting with us and we don’t know if they have a knife or something.”
Every time there is an attack on staff or passengers, demands are made for a dedicated transport police force.
Tom O’Connor, NBRU deputy general secretary, yesterday reiterated his call for the creation of a transport force.
The union is also pushing for mandatory sentencing of those who attack workers on the front lines.
“Drivers are not bouncers. You are not security. That’s why we’re calling for it,” he said.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) said it did not believe a dedicated public transport police unit was needed as overall levels of antisocial behavior were “generally stable”.
Just last weekend a man was injured in an unprovoked and apparently “homophobic” attack on a Dublin bus.
Mark Sheehan, 26, opened up about his ordeal on the national airwaves and in a series of tweets.
He told how he was returning from a night out with friends in the early hours of Sunday morning when he was headbutted by another passenger.
Earlier this month, a 29-year-old man was attacked and badly beaten by up to 10 young men at the Luas station on George’s Dock.
An NTA spokesman said that while incidents do occur “from time to time,” a 2021 customer satisfaction report showed that most riders feel safe on public transport.
However, NBRU’s Mr O’Connor said passengers and staff are being mistreated and assaulted while travelling.
He said a public transport group was needed in Garda and setting up a “fully funded dedicated public transport department” was the “only option” to make public transport safe.
In response, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said this week people should feel safe on public transport but a decision on a special police unit is a matter for the Garda commissioner, not the government.
He added: “But I think we all agree that we would like to see an increased presence of Garda in public transport at bus and train stations and also increased security from the companies.”
An Garda Síochána said it was not currently considering setting up a transport police unit, although Commissioner Drew Harris said a command center would be opened at Heuston station to liaise directly with transport authorities.
They yell at customers and try to grab their phones on the way. It’s just awful
Bus driver Mr Fitzpatrick is originally from Finglas and used to be a truck driver. Despite the antisocial behavior, he loves his job. Most of his passengers are not a problem, he said.
However, he described regular encounters that often make dealing with antisocial behavior his top priority.
He said teenagers tend to sit in the back of buses with cans of alcohol in their pockets.
“I’ll tell them they’re stuck or I’ll call the gardaí,” he said.
“They yell at customers and try to grab their phones on the way. It’s just awful.
“I’ve heard racist remarks, young lads yelling the N-word and such. I stop when it happens.
“People are scared and often say ‘thank you’ when they get off. Then I make sure the others don’t get out behind them.”
He added that his wife often calls him to check that everything is okay.
An NTA spokesman said when antisocial incidents do occur, “they are traumatic and distressing to the victims, other passengers and public transport personnel.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/i-had-a-passenger-who-completely-lost-it-he-kicked-in-my-door-and-threatened-to-kill-me-says-bus-driver-41922106.html “I had a passenger who went completely insane, he kicked in my door and threatened to kill me,” says the bus driver