Operator Safety isn’t about Installing Shields, it’s about Training Operators in Post-War Approaches to Dealing with a Traumatized Public

Operator Safety isn’t about Installing Shields, it’s about Training Operators in Post-War Approaches to Dealing with a Traumatized Public

In 2011, Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration, conducted a study to discover the practices within ?the industry that are used to protect bus operators from assaults. This study ?also reviewed the causes of passenger violence toward operators, and which protection practices were most effective in lowering the risks. Contrary to what many operators and their unions continuously request, installing plastic barriers between the operator and his passengers is not an effective safety practice. Feelings of claustrophobia and isolation only contribute to an operator’s inability to connect with his passengers.


According to TCRP, operator trainings are considered by transit agencies to be among the most successful measures against attacks. In particular, transit agencies reported to TCRP, “that a number of incidents may have been prevented through a change in the operator’s actions, words or demeanor. Therefore, customer service, conflict mitigation and diversity training are believed to be very effective measures against assault.”


Educating operators is not a new concept. Workforce development training programs increasingly include information on conflict, and how to deal with difficult customers. However, these trainings often fail for several reasons:


  1. The content isn’t relevant to participants’ lives.
  2. Participants feel that their real-world expertise is dismissed in favor of the instructor’s expertise.
  3. The training is delivered in a top-down fashion (seminar structure), and participants mentally check out. (The average attention span of an adult who is listening to a lecture is fifteen minutes.)
  4. Participants learn new skills, but haven’t changed their attitudes enough to believe the new skills are worth incorporating into their behaviors.


When instructing transit workers, the top two reasons for failed trainings are particularly relevant. Because transit workers experience and witness unprecedented customer violence, and customer mental health and poverty issues, trainers who don’t have real-world experience regarding these issues, will minimize their gravity and inadequately address their impact on the transit worker.


The decline of healthy, sustainable urban communities in our nation is evident in the statistics. In 2010, the National Urban League published a report stating that urban youth experience violence at a 34 percent higher rate than their suburban counterparts and 75 percent more than youth living in rural areas.


Certainly, in many of our American cities the evidence of violence and poverty is incontrovertible. For instance, in the city of Philadelphia, certain neighborhoods have been denied social services, lack decent educational institutions and are plagued by an epidemic of drug addiction and community violence. According to the 2010 United States Census, in the 1st District ?of Philadelphia, child poverty has risen to 40 percent. This number reflects a larger problem in our cities across the nation. A disproportionate number of youth are growing up hungry, witnessing and experiencing community violence and are robbed of the social supports children and youth receive in the suburbs.


In addition, domestic violence in rural, suburban and urban areas continues to be a national epidemic. Conservative estimates indicate that one in four girls and one in six boys are victims of sexual abuse. Sadly, these numbers reflect a growing incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma disorder among young people.

The effects of trauma are not only an individual psychological problem for those who struggle with traumatic history the entire community is impacted. For example, 80 percent of people who suffer with