Less than a month after one of their drivers was killed by a passenger, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is installing safety barriers on all of its vehicles.
HART announced the move Thursday and said it has allocated $1 million towards the project with each installed barrier estimated to cost $5,000.
"The safety and security of our employees remains a priority at HART as they serve our customers with the highest level of professionalism," HART CEO Ben Limmer said in a statement.
The agency worked with the union that represents its drivers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, to come up with a plan and agreed to a custom-fit protective barrier with extended tempered glass to cover the area where bus and van drivers sit.
“We took a shield that is extended out where somebody can’t put their hand around or walk up and just grab the operator,” ATU International Vice President Curtis Howard explained.
Howard also leads the local chapter in Tampa that represented Thomas Dunn, the HART bus driver who was stabbed by a passenger in May while on the job.
Dunn, 46, had complained to the HART board about safety issues last December. After he was stabbed, he still managed to pull the bus over safely so that no other passengers were injured.
"Following the senseless passing of one of our own, we voiced our concerns, and would like to thank HART leadership for listening to us," said Howard.
"We are working together to take immediate action to ensure that our operator-members are safe and that a tragedy like that never happens again."
ATU International President John Costa said this should be a wake-up call for other transit agencies around the country to be proactive instead of reactive.
"Not one more operator should be assaulted or murdered on a bus with the technology we have proven could help prevent some of these incidents, and it's just mindboggling we still have authorities out there that are not looking to do this," he said.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority announced similar plans to install barriers on its buses last week.
It had been testing a different barrier for about six months but then adjusted the design to include an extended barrier that will offer drivers more protection.
PSTA officials said it's expected to cost $4,000 - $5,000 per installed shield. With 210 buses, that would be a total of $840,000 - $1,050,000.
The PSTA finance committee is considering the purchase next week and it will go before the full board for approval on June 26.
The agency expects to begin installing barriers in August and complete the project by October.
Bills introduced in both chambers of Congress would fund safety improvements for buses and rails, including efforts to prevent assaults on operators and reducing visibility impairments.