TriMet drivers face threats, attacks

PORTLAND -- A TriMet bus driver was the victim of a violent attack and is recovering after getting stabbed this week. This type of incident, however, is not unheard of.

Every year, dozens of TriMet drivers are assaulted, harassed, and even spit on. In October 2012, a passenger attacked a bus driver and several passengers in Oregon City.

More: Driver, 3 passengers recover from bus rampage

In April 2011, surveillance video, obtained by Newschannel 8 showed a passenger spit on a TriMet bus driver.

And in May of 2010, a woman can be seen on security video smearing dog feces on the bus driver's seat and steering wheel at the Sunset Transit Center.

TriMet bus driver Pamela Thompson has been the target of attack. Twice, over her 9-year career, she's been on spit on by a passenger.

It is kind of juvenile, I am kind of surprised at how the general public behaves, Thompson said. It's a dangerous job. You know people think driving a bus, what is so hard about that?

Over the past three years, there have been 79 incidents where TriMet drivers have been assaulted, harassed or threatened.

You watch the movie groundhogs day, repeat, repeat, that's basically what it is. You know, different day, same stuff, Thompson said.

Last year, of the 19 incidents recorded, 11 of them involved drivers being spit on. Authorities don't know what prompts this type of behavior but it is a crime.

For as many people as there are, there are that many reasons why somebody might assault an operator, said Cmdr. Mike Crebs with Portland Police Transit.

Police theorize that drugs, alcohol and mental illness could be contributing factors. And some people simply take out their frustration on whoever is available, which often happens to be bus drivers.

A lot of people you know say, oh my gosh, I could never do what you do--driving this big thing --and I'm like, driving is not the issue, Thompson said.

Many cases like one where a passenger punched a driver stem from a dispute over fare. TriMet trains its drivers to deal with angry passengers and there's also emergency communication and cameras on-board.

We take any sort of assault or other crime that may committed on the system very, very seriously, said Harry Saporta with TriMet safety and security. If you commit a crime on the system, you will be prosecuted if you are apprehended.

Some transit systems, including Miami-Dade have installed barriers to protect their drivers. Thompson doesn't want a glass wall on her bus. Instead, she'd just like passenger to behave and treat TriMet drivers with a little more respect.

KGW reporter Kyle Iboshi contributed to this report.


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