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Feb 5, 2014 11:08 AM by Rebecca Taylor

Sun Tran drivers face hostile riders

TUCSON - Some Sun Tran bus drivers report being spit on, intimidated, and assaulted by the passengers they're paid to chauffeur. They feel the city and their union are not doing enough to protect them. They're asking for added security measures.

Drivers we talked to say they've had weapons pulled on them and their personal belonging stolen.

For many drivers it's a seat they love, but unruly customers are taking a toll.

Dawn Helms has been a bus driver for two years. "You'll ask them to pay the fare, and they'll say I don't have it. Then I'll say then you have to wait for the next bus. No I'm going to ride this beeping bus," she says, "they get very vulgar."

She says Sun Tran allows them to use their judgment whether to refuse someone a ride. Paying customer, or not.

"Finally some of them will get off, others will spit at you," says Helms.

Sometimes she'll call her supervisor, and police will remove them. Other times she gives a passenger with no money, the benefit of the doubt.

"And that's what happened with me. I let the guy ride my bus, Christmas night. He was intoxicated, he came at me, wanted to say thank you, and all of a sudden he's grabbing my ear, my hair and out the door he went," she says.

A memo is being circulated among Sun Tran drivers detailing stats from other unions, including this, "a bus driver gets assaulted every three days in the U.S.," according to the Amalgated Transit Union.

On YouTube there are multiple videos of drivers being attacked. One from Kansas City shows the driver being knocked unconscious.

In Albuquerque, a driver fended off his attacker by kicking back. And when the suspect returned, passengers intervened.

In a statement from Kandi Young, Director of Marketing and Communications we're told: "Sun Tran takes the safety of our passengers and employees very seriously. We have procedures in place to handle driver assault situations, and have worked with the state legislature to support bills benefiting driver safety. Sun Tran provides training to all new coach operators, as well as refresher training to further support operators on how to handle difficult situations when dealing with the public."

How do passengers feel?

Tony Martinez says, "It's safe to me, I feel safe."

"There's a lot of harassment," says Lyndsie Anderson, "a lot of people fight on the bus over stupid stuff, but I've never seen a driver harassed, I'm lucky though."

Helms and other drivers want additional protection like protective driver cubes, spit guards, even DNA tests, so those who spit can be prosecuted.

Helms says, "Because the drivers can only deal with so much before we're going to start snapping."

Sun Tran busses are equipped with cameras. Helms says her case is being investigated by Tucson Police.

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