Safety concerns continue to plague public transit in Tucson

Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 8:17 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Students are back at the University of Arizona and that means more riders on public transit. However, the issue of safety when going from place to place around Tucson remains.

Sherry Schaefer rides the city bus every other day. Last Saturday, during her commute, she found herself calling Sun Tran while chaos ensued.

“Trying to figure out how to calm down this couple they were very intoxicated, throwing food fights, threatening people, laying on the floor,” Schaefer said. “She even had her feet up on the seat going back and forth.”

She wasn’t the only one on the bus trying to find a solution.

“We had 70% of the bus, and it was pretty full by this time, complaining to the driver to pull over, ‘get them off please,’ and he’s not allowed to get involved,” Schaefer said.

This is the policy for all drivers with Sun Tran – stay in your seat and try to de-escalate.

“If they get out of their seat then they’re gonna be charged or they could be charged with starting or not de-escalating a situation,” Teamsters Local 104 Business Agent Kevin Hampton said. “They’re not the captains of their own ship and even if they see somebody doing something wrong or is against the rules, they’re not allowed to confront that person or do anything.”

Many drivers say this policy is a stressful one.

“They don’t know from one day to the next if they’re going to be assaulted or paraded or just vented on in some way,” Hampton said.

Sun Tran general manager Steve Spade says de-escalation tactics have helped in reducing the number of incidents on the bus since 2020.

“We use our employee assaults as kind of a barometer of where we are,” Spade said, “just to give an example in 2021 we had 47, in 2022 we had 39 and so far this year we’ve only had nine assaults.”

They say de-escalation strategies have helped tremendously and it’s something they include heavily in their training.

“We train all of our new employees in de-escalation tactics,” Spade said. “Every time there’s an incident on a bus we review the video of that incident and then we talk to the driver about how did their tactics and strategies work and where didn’t they work?”

But some riders don’t think it’s the right call.

“I don’t feel safe,” Schaefer said. “I don’t feel safe if they’re told not to get involved it’s like being on a Tesla on autopilot. It’s gonna keep going.”

Public transportation is still free and will continue to be until the end of 2023.

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