Barrier systems will be coming to new CT Transit buses to better protect the drivers.
NBC Connecticut Investigates was the first to report on dozens of CT Transit bus drivers who said they had been assaulted on the job in recent years.
"You pick a certain number of buses, you put it in there and try to get as many people operating that bus as possible to get their feedback on it," said Cole Pouliot, general manager of CT Transit, which serves passengers in the Hartford, New Haven and Stamford regions.
“We’re currently working to get a prototype driver barrier installed on one of our buses,” Pouliot told NBC Connecticut Investigates. “Provided it passes our evaluation and testing, we plan to have it installed on all of the new buses we’re purchasing in 2019.”
"We see how the employees feel, to make sure they feel safe and protected or if this is a solution that they are interested in," Pouliot said.
CT Transit's barriers will be similar to what is already in place at Greater Bridgeport Transit (GBT), according to Pouliot.
"It was a good decision," said Mustafa Salahuddin, president and business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1336. "Safety is paramount here."
Two-panel barrier systems were installed on 35 GBT buses over the last year and a half. GBT officials said there had not been any assaults on drivers since the barriers were added.
"Nothing but positive feedback from the operators," said Doug Holcomb, CEO of Greater Bridgeport Transit. "We've had no concerns raised by the customers. No safety issues in the first 18 months of deployment."
Unlike GBT, which is an independent transit authority, CT Transit is overseen by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
Since 2016, 42 CT Transit drivers have reported being punched, having food and drinks thrown their way, or having a passenger spitting at them, among other incidents. All of the incidents were documented in reports that drivers filed with CT Transit, which NBC Connecticut Investigates obtained.
CT Transit bus operator Desiree Martone said an angry passenger dumped ice cream over her head.
"It bothered me. It still does today," said Martone, who believes a driver barrier may have prevented the incident. She also said there is a need for more respect from the passengers she transports every day.
"Let them know that they can't treat the drivers like this," Martone said. "Basically, that’s what it falls down to."
It has not been decided if CT Transit drivers would be required to use the protective barriers at all times or only when a driver feels the need. Expect to see the barriers on CT Transit buses by summer 2019.