RTA introduces plexiglass enclosure meant to protect drivers from unruly riders

CLEVELAND - The RTA introduced a protective plexiglass and steel enclosure for its bus drivers Tuesday at a board hearing.

"Safety is priceless," said Mary Schaffer, RTA spokesman.

The proposal comes after a string of physical and verbal assaults between drivers and riders over the past few months.

"It seems to be roomy enough in here, and you still have the protection you need," said Marty Wisnieski, body shop supervisor for RTA.

Wisnieski said his mechanics started to design and build the contraption in September immediately after a video showing a RTA driver upper-cutting an unruly female rider went viral.

"You don't want to see anything like that ever happen," added Wisnieski.

The enclosure measures almost 3 ft wide by 6 feet tall and is opened by a square key. There's about a two foot gap between the front of the windshield and the start of the enclosure, which is steel on the bottom and clear plexiglass from the waist up.

"We really want to see if our drivers think this is the right thing before we put in all of our buses," said Schaffer, who added that each enclosure would cost between $3,000 and $5,000. The RTA currently operates 450 buses.  

The RTA will begin testing the enclosure Monday on various routes and hopes to gather feedback from various drivers about its design and functionality over the next few months before it outfits more buses.

"Being a driver, being in that seat all day long, they may have a different feeling than we do when we're just looking at it," Schaffer added.

"I think it'll be very nice for the bus drivers so the passengers can't get to them," said RTA rider Joann Hurt who got a glimpse of the contraption.

Other riders echoed Hurt's opinion.

"I think it's excellent," said RTA rider Deborah Carrington. "They deserve to be safe."

"I feel better than what it was without it," said RTA rider Ronald Dunklin, who referenced his comfort level if enclosures were a standard feature on all buses.

In addition to protective shields, the RTA is training its drivers in how to respond to altercations. Furthermore, it's unveiling a new smartphone app called iWatch, in which riders can text complaints and send video anonymously to the transit authority. It's also working with suburban police departments in Cuyahoga County, placing uniformed and undercover police officers on buses to increase safety.

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