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RTD bus drivers rattled by gunfire near Capitol, violence along the 15 (Colfax) route

RTD taking steps to increase safety
Posted at 12:32 AM, Jan 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-06 12:54:16-05

DENVER -- A gunfight that broke out Thursday near the State Capitol did more than alarm bystanders. It also rattled RTD bus drivers.

Some drivers say there has been an ongoing problem with violence along the 15 (Colfax) route, and that much of it is inside the buses themselves.

"We need more security," said driver Roger Harris, "it's just out of control."

RTD says the gunfire Thursday didn't occur on a bus, or have anything to do with a bus, but there have been instances where guns were fired on buses before.

On August 13, one passenger shot another on a bus near Colfax and Sable in Aurora.

When asked about the danger of that route, RTD Public Affairs Manager Tina Jaquez said, "The 15 is our busiest fixed route, nearly 23,000 people a day ride that route."

Harris told Denver 7 that most passengers are friendly, but some cause problems.

"We get cussed out all the time," he said. "Some people are always fighting, and some get on the bus drunk."

"We have no protection," he added. "We need that plexiglass enclosure like they have on Greyhound buses.

But not every bus driver wants such an enclosure.

"It's confining," said Lance Longenbohn, a bus driver and chief steward with the Amalgamated Transit Union. "One of the things I like about driving is sometimes interacting with passengers."

Jaquez said RTD has taken steps to make sure bus drivers and passengers are safe.

She said there are 12,000 cameras system-wide on buses, at park and rides, and other facilities.

She added they have 400 or so transit officers, many of whom work undercover, riding buses and trains.

Jaquez also said they have two command centers that operate 24/7 and are staffed with 911 certified dispatchers.

She said there is now a Transit Watch app that riders can use to contact the command center, if they see something happening.

Longenbohn says the cameras, dispatchers and undercover officers are all helpful, but the app isn't always used the way it was intended.

"Some passengers use it to report a bus that's running late, or one that didn't show up," he said, "or to complain about a passenger sitting too close to them."

Felony Assault

Longenbohm said some bus drivers have been attacked and injured by unruly passengers.

"Don't touch the driver," he said, pointing to a sign in the lobby of the Local 1001 Union Hall. "Any act of violence against a bus driver or train operator is a felony."

He said not everyone knows that's the law.

Jaquez said RTD is now working on a project called 15-L and 15.

"As part of that project," she said, "we're putting shelters at all the 15-L bus stops, and are adding improved lighting and security cameras at a lot of those stops as well."

Harris told Denver7 he'd like to see more preventative measures.

"They should have guards on Colfax at Broadway," he said, "so the trouble-makers can see them."