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Bus-driver assaults a quietly growing risk on Cowichan transit
Richelle the bus driver was having a routine shift.
She was covering her regional transit route in the Shawnigan Lake area Jan. 14 with one passenger onboard enjoying the ride.
But the afternoon took a nasty turn at around 5 p.m. when Richelle picked up a passenger at the Mason’s Store bus stop — adding her name to Cowichan’s list of bus-driver assaults that some drivers say is getting longer.
Richelle said her attacker was known to her as a regular during her six years behind the wheel.
“He was headed to Mill Bay. When I crossed the train tracks at Cobble Hill Road, he realized I wasn’t turning left (toward the Black Swan Pub) but toward the village.”
That route riled the passenger who got angry as Richelle’s rig neared the Shawnigan Lake Community Centre.
“He started yelling, swearing, and walking up and down the (aisle).
“I asked him to sit down and be quiet, at which point he started punching at my head area,” she said.
“I was able to block him with my arm. This was all in a matter of a couple of minutes.”
Fortunately, the lake’s RCMP detachment sits just past the community centre.
“When I stopped and said ‘I’m getting the RCMP’, he jumped off the bus. The police got him, and he’s been charged with assault.”
Suspect Tim Thorpe appeared in Duncan court March 11 to answer simple assault charges.
He’s due back in court April 15 for an arraignment hearing, court staff said.
“We were fortunate to find the suspect in the vicinity because he was on foot,” Cpl. Dave MacKenzie said of the suspect, whom he noted is known to police.
The beating left a shaken Richelle off work for an unknown period.
She’s getting physiotherapy for a shoulder injury, and her WCB claim has been accepted, she said.
But the mother of two explained she’d rather be working at the job she enjoys, not dealing with effects of the type of attack worrying drivers on Cowichan’s 30 B.C.Transit buses contracted to the Cowichan Valley Regional District .
“I had one other minor incident when a guy swung at me as he was getting off the bus,” she said.
“But the abuse is starting to escalate. We’re being spit at, yelled at — and swearing is normal.”
Reasons for rider rage are hazy, Richelle signalled.
“Sometimes we’re late, and people don’t want to pay their fare; sometimes there’s no reason at all.
“I just find it unacceptable. People should know what’s happening to see if we can make changes — in particular for bus drivers, or anyone else who works on their own.”
Seasoned bus driver Glen Clark agreed.
“There’s been an (assault) increase in the past year,” said Clark, a transit driver since 1998.
“We’ve had three drivers assaulted. There are lots of people who shouldn’t be on the streets.
“There’s lots of mental illness that’s not treated enough due to government cuts.”
Clark called Richelle’s thumping “terrible. We’re on the front lines with very little protection.”
While Richelle believed Plexiglas would protect drivers, answers weren’t so clear to Clark.
“It’s a pretty small area to work in; the jury’s out on that one.”
Former local driver Shirley Partridge explained her bosses with First Canada — B.C. Transit contractors running Cowichan’s buses — didn’t like her speaking out about on-board assaults.
“It’s usually intoxicated people,” she said of abusive riders during her five-year transit career.
“The danger is very real because more and more of the situation in Duncan is First Canada management not concerned about driver safety.
“Luckily, I was never assaulted.”
Calls to First Canada’s transit manager, Colin Oakes, were not returned.
Partridge cited several years ago when a violent, aggressive rider was removed from Richelle’s bus, and management tried to put that passenger on Partridge’s bus.
“I refused to take him, and I was suspended for a week.”
Jim Wakeham, CVRD’s facility, fleet and transit manager, explained drivers are to go to First Canada’s Oakes with safety and assault issues.
“First Canada has to investigate allegations. BCT will also want to know about it,” he said, welcoming driver-safety worries.
“We want to learn about (safety) because we’ve heard about assaults on drivers. Any altercation’s not good,” Wakeham said.
Partridge agreed, hinting Plexiglas may be the best option.
“It would be a shame, but if that’s the only way to keep them (drivers) safe.”