For the first time, several Connecticut bus drivers are revealing the dirty and sometimes dangerous situations they say they encounter on board on a regular basis. The drivers from CT Transit in the Hartford and Stamford regions as well as from the Greater Bridgeport Transit system offered up testimonials to NBC Connecticut Investigates.
"You don't know who's getting on your bus. You don't know what you're up against," said Veronica Chavers, who has been a CT Transit bus operator in the Stamford area for 27 years. "Especially being a woman, sitting in that seat, they'll come at you any way so you have to be prepared for that," said Chavers.
For over a year, NBC Connecticut Investigates has been looking into reported assaults on CT Transit buses. In addition to those incidents, bus drivers are now offering first-hand accounts of the other behavior they say occurs on board.
"Sir, excuse me.. you cannot get changed on the bus," said Hartford area CT Transit bus operator, Staci, who declined to use her last name in this story. She described what she said she saw in her rear-view mirror. "He had stripped down to his undershirt and boxers, had his suitcase open and was prepared to get changed on my bus like it was his bedroom."
"We've seen people performing oral sex," said Mustafa Salahuddin, who drove buses for Greater Bridgeport Transit for 23 years. "Nothing's off limits," he said. Salahuddin now serves as President and Business Agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1336.
Drivers described instances of sexual activity as well as gambling.
"They were making money on the bus," said Godfrey Burton, who has been a Stamford area CT Transit bus operator for about 30 years. "They were gambling."
"I smelled it," said driver Calvin Henry. "And I had to tell him listen you can't smoke that on the bus, man." Henry has spent the last 13 years as a CT Transit bus operator in the Hartford area.
"Twice, you know, I saw a guy shooting up," said Salahuddin. "You get up, walk back there and you see their armed strapped off."
Drivers say there are also passengers who think they are allowed to bring just about anything on board.
"I'm like, 'you can't bring a mattress on the bus'. They're like 'why not, I paid my fare'," said Staci. "I was in awe," she said.
Other items drivers say passengers have attempted to bring on board include a deli slicer, containers full of gasoline, a chain saw and large auto parts.
"He said 'can you open up the back door?' I told him no, you can't bring a transmission," said Salahuddin. "I had a guy try to bring on kitchen chairs. I had a guy bring on a grill."
Salahuddin said he has even seen passengers try to bring wild animals on board.
"Different animals, snakes, boa constrictors, the bright yellow and white ones, monkeys, parrots, everything, ferrets, weasels."
What is worse, these drivers said, is what some passengers may leave behind.
"For somebody to come up and relieve themselves on the bus is the worst," said Chavers. "And you have to drive around with it until the company comes to clean it up. That's the worst and most grossest thing that I've ever dealt with."
"I was spit in the face. I don't do bodily fluids," said Staci. "It's disgusting."
Drivers say some of what they see can be shocking.
"You could literally see the bed bugs walking around on him," Salahuddin said, describing a passenger who entered the bus. "That was grotesque."
The bus can be a dirty and dangerous place, these drivers said.
"On the transit buses, Halloween and Mischief Night, worst two nights of the year," said Salahuddin. "Buses go through, they use it for target practice. Pellet guns, actual 22's where they see the bullet holes where they were literally aiming at the driver or the side of the bus."
"One Halloween night, I got shot in the arm with paint ball gun," said Winsten Anderson, a CT Transit bus operator in the Hartford area for the last 20 years.
"CT Transit strives to create safe environment in order for our employees to provide an efficient, high-quality customer experience for the nearly 28 million riders we carry each year," General Manager Cole Pouliot told NBC Connecticut Investigates. "Occasionally, an unusual incident occurs where our professional staff must respond to ensure rider safety," Pouliot stated.
"Their tremendous efforts are appreciated and we will continue to work together to provide the best service for our customers," wrote Pouliot.
The drivers emphasized that their safety and the safety of the passengers and other drivers on the road are the top priority. Despite all of the instances they described, the drivers said they loved their jobs.
"I just try to keep a smile and say 'oh it's alright, it's a daily thing," said Staci. "I'm used to it'."
The drivers offered insight about how passengers can be safer on board.
"The middle of the bus and the front of the bus are always the ideal place for a senior citizen or just any regular rider to sit," said Salahuddin. The rear of the bus, he said, can often be louder and where most questionable behavior would take place.
"Never keep both earbuds in your ear; always take one out," said Staci, in order for passengers to be more aware of their surroundings.
The bus drivers said they hoped drivers of their own private passenger cars would show more patience and respect for someone who is operating a 40 foot vehicle that weighs 38,000 pounds.
"You've checked all your mirrors and all of sudden, they come from nowhere," said Chavers of other drivers who do not respect the space around a large bus. "It scares you inside. You have this feeling inside like 'I almost could have killed someone'," she said.
"These people on the road don't know how difficult it is to merge into traffic with a big bus," said Burton.
"They'll cut in front of you so they can get to the light first because they don't want to be behind you and then they slam on their brakes," said Staci. "My worst pet peeve is when a mother, father in a minivan does it full of kids."
Doug Holcomb, general manager and CEO of Greater Bridgeport Transit released the following statement:
"With so many riders on the buses these days (some 120,000 boardings in CT every day) it should be no surprise to anyone that, from time to time, some of the problems we see in our communities can turn-up on any public service - we are open to everyone.
"While the bus is for folks from all walks of life, sometimes homelessness, drug addiction and mental health issues need to be addressed while we provide the services.
"We know that working through these events as a driver is enormously challenging (while also having the responsibility for the safety of all riders) and we are always working, through our office, with the Union and through long-standing community partners like police, emergency services and health departments, to make it easier on our drivers while being compassionate to all riders - so that no rider gets left behind."