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'Drivers are being hit in the head with bricks': No plans for dedicated transport police as drivers condemn attacks

Unions have been calling for the introduction of a dedicated transport policing unit.

A brick that came through a bus window earlier this year.
A brick that came through a bus window earlier this year.
Image: TheJournal.ie

ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR on public transport will not be tackled by a dedicated arm of An Garda Síochána, management has confirmed, despite what union reps have described as a “spike” in the number of serious incidents on public transport.

Despite calls from a significant number of politicians in recent months, the decision made is that gardaí will respond to calls instead of being a constant presence on platforms and on carriages.

The number of incidents of anti-social behaviour on some of our public transport has increased dramatically in the last 10 years.

For example, Irish Rail recorded 789 reports of anti-social behaviour incidents in 2018. This compared with a total in 2017 of 690 reports of anti-social behaviour.

In recent months, videos have been shared on social media of open drug taking as well as violent assaults and confrontations on buses and trains.

Last month, a man in his 50s was attacked on an intercity rail line as he made his way home from work. A group of young men had attempted to rob him initially, according to eyewitnesses.

Sean Yeates, a National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) executive in Dublin Bus’s Ringsend garage, told TheJournal.ie how “fearless” groups of young people are terrorising drivers and those who use the bus and rail lines.

He said: “The problem is these lads have no fear at all. They see private security and they know that these guys have no power of arrest and detention so they think they can do what they like.

“We’ve been saying it for ages that [transport companies] are just painting over the cracks by putting in private firms who have no powers of arrest and detention. They’re not dealing with the real issue – a dedicated transport police that will look after people.

“[Transport police would be] a huge deterrent.”

However, a Garda spokesperson confirmed that there are currently no plans to introduce a dedicated transport police unit.

He said: “An Garda Síochána is not considering the establishment of a transport police unit at the moment. An Garda Síochána continues to work with public transport providers to prevent and tackle anti-social behaviour.”

The attacks

Bus drivers, ticket inspectors and the general public are all targeted by physical and verbal attacks on nearly every day of the week, Yeates said. He said on one occasion earlier this month, a brick was thrown through the window of a bus and hit a woman on the shoulder.

On another occasion, at the same spot, a driver was hit in the head with a brick that smashed through his window. 

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-06 at 15.48.36 Another bus after a brick attack.

“The number of attacks has spiked in the last 10 days I’d say. I’ll give you an example of what happens. A driver rang me. He had let a chap on and the passenger starts giving him abuse. So, the driver tells him to get off the bus. As your man leaves, he spits at the driver and gets into his mouth and his eyes,” Yeates explained.

“That driver now has to go for Hepatitis C checks and everything. Another time out in Tallaght, a brick came through and hit the driver on the head.

“At the end of the day, if one of those bricks comes in and a child is killed, you watch, the National Transport Authority and the Government will jump through hoops to make a transport police happen.

“All you have to do is look online these days. There was a video going around of an incident on the Sligo train. Some fella thought it would be funny to set the train on fire.

The staff have to put up with this hassle.

“We went across to the UK to see how all this works. They obviously have a dedicated transport police service. What we saw was a huge reduction in anti-social behaviour. Of course, things still do occur but nowhere near at the same level as it was.

“I know the gardaí are stuck for money so I don’t expect them to come through with the money to set this up. But it should be a Government job to sort.

“For us there’s nobody coming to rescue, nobody to help stop people taking public transport being abused or attacked.”

What do the providers say?

TheJournal.ie contacted representatives of Irish Rail, Luas and Dublin Bus and asked for the procedures which are in place when an incident occurs.

We also asked if the provider was in favour of the establishment of a dedicated garda unit.

Luas:

The following incidents were reported to Luas last year: 

  • The number of incidences of public disorder – 961
  • Theft – 45
  • Threat to personnel – 68
  • Threat to public -  52
  • Racial abuse – 18
  • The number of times the text alert service was used by passengers – 860 in total for both lines

A Luas spokeswoman said that the company is open to speaking to gardaí about the possibility of working with a dedicated transport police.

She said: “Instances of anti-social behaviour are very low, particularly in the context of 48 million people travelling on Luas annually. However, whilst low, serious incidents do affect the service and other passengers.

Luas 560 Luas security. Source: Sam Boal

“We appeal to people to report incidents of anti-social behaviour to us using our Security Text Service by texting ‘Luas’ followed by their message to 51444,  it’s a discreet method and updates staff in the control room in real-time. Customers can also alert staff either in person or using the Emergency Help intercoms located at each door inside the tram or beside the ticket machines on platforms, or by contacting the Gardaí directly.

“Regarding a national transport police: Luas is always open to discussions on this and other matters we have an excellent working relationship with An Garda Síochána who work closely with us daily.”

Dublin Bus

The carrier said that anti-social behaviours, on the whole, had decreased. However, it did say that there are still challenges facing drivers.

It said incidents of anti-social behaviour involving Dublin Bus in 2019 were down 3.7% compared to 2018.

The bus service would not be drawn on whether or not it supports a national transport police force.

Instead it said that it has “a strong and close working relationship with An Garda Síochána and have set up a number of community forums in different areas across the city”.

1412 Buses Source: Leah Farrell

A spokeswoman added: “Incidents of anti-social behaviour and vandalism on buses have also decreased in recent years since the introduction of the exact fare system, CCTV and security screens at the drivers cab.

“The entire Dublin Bus fleet is fully fitted with CCTV cameras with up to 10 internal cameras and two external cameras fitted on the more modern vehicles in the fleet. Each vehicle is equipped with a radio which facilitates immediate contact to our Central Control Centre.

“All Dublin Bus employees are fully trained on the comprehensive procedures for dealing with specific challenging situations including anti-social behaviour. 

Irish Rail was asked for comment.

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