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DENVER -- It’s no secret RTD has a shortage of bus drivers and tonight, one of them shares his story of assault while on the job during one of his routes.
And these kinds of assaults on drivers, as Contact7 discovered, has increased from the previous two years, according to data provided by RTD.
Michael Baldrey, an RTD bus driver, didn’t expect to get hurt on the job especially after he told Contact7 he did a group of teens a favor and allowed them to hop on even without their bus fares during his route on Colfax Avenue near East High School. He immediately regretted it when he heard all the commotion coming from the back of his bus.
"I found out one of my passengers had actually been punched in the head and had been spat on by these individuals," said Baldrey.
Before figuring out exactly what was happening, he stopped his bus and the group then headed for another bus. Baldrey tried to warn that driver and that’s when things escalated.
"I turned around to confront them and they started hurling all kinds of racial slurs towards me," said Baldrey.
He told Contact7 the group threw rocks at his head too, and then punched him in the face, before running off.
He said he called for help three times through the bus radio system and used a silent alarm but didn’t get a response. Baldrey told Contact7 safety concerns for bus drivers and passengers are a growing problem and relying on the bus’s radio system is not adequate.
RTD spokeswoman Laurie Huff responded to Denver7’s questions about protocol in the event of an emergency.
Bus operators have multiple buttons to press to contact dispatch in case of an emergency, including a silent alarm. Enabling a silent alarm opens an open mic to bus dispatch, which can then listen into the vehicle to better discern what’s happening. The information a dispatcher hears will help determine what resources to send for help, which could include a street supervisor, RTD transit security officers, or police and/or fire agencies in the jurisdiction where the incident is taking place.
Baldrey acknowledges that RTD transit security officers do a good job when they are on board the buses, but hopes this is more constant as the officers are spread throughout the district.
"We have stories every day from our drivers about people that are doing the same types of stuff. We are constantly threatened. We are constantly harassed,” said Baldrey. "There's been some times when I’ve pushed buttons and talked to them and it’s taken 20 to 30 minutes to get somebody to my bus, which I don't feel is acceptable."
Denver police are looking into it, as well as RTD, while Baldrey is out on workman's comp. Right now, RTD has transit security officers that spread throughout the district.
Baldrey hopes something changes because it’s not just about him.
"We should have enough control of our buses I think that we don't have to worry about the safety of our passengers."
RTD also told Contact7 it does everything it can to keep drivers safe while they work hard to serve the public and is looking into the response time and reviewing the degree to which policy was followed.