Metro has taken several steps to improve safety aboard its buses, assigning transit police to ride along on some routes and using canine units to sweep bus facilities, transit officials said yesterday.
The sweeps that began this week and the rides by officers that began last week are part of Metro's immediate responses to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the union representing transit workers, Metro Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson said.
Members of the transit workers union demonstrate outside Metro headquarters on the day of a board meeting, demanding that bus security be improved.
The union, which organized a protest at yesterday's Metro board meeting, is demanding secure garages, video cameras on every bus, more education for young people about the hazards of throwing rocks at drivers and other safety measures.
The number of assaults on buses rose to 125 last year from 114 in 2003. There were 66 assaults on bus drivers last year compared with 46 in 2003, according to Transit Police statistics.
The union has pledged to continue protesting until Metro addresses all of its concerns.
"We'll be back next month with more people," said Anthony Wayne Garland, an executive board member of the union and the organizer of yesterday's protest.
About three dozen current and retired drivers chanted outside the Metro headquarters at the Jackson Graham Building on Fifth Street NW. "Drivers and riders unite! A safe workplace is our right!" they yelled. "Come out and walk with us! We all need safety on the bus!"
Rick Henzley, 52, a driver with 25 years on the job, said he was stabbed four times when he was jumped by three youths in 1980. He said being a bus driver now is worse than it was then.
On Tuesday evening, Hanson rode buses on the A and W lines through Southeast Washington, where drivers are having the most difficulty with assaults and vandalism, and witnessed an incident up close.
"The bus behind me got pelted with rocks," she said. "I'm disappointed in some citizens in this community who don't appreciate the services that these bus drivers provide."
Last year, 152 bus windows were shattered, 50 more than in 2003 and about 100 more than in 2002, according to police.
Metro officials attend about 12 school assemblies per year to raise awareness among young people about the dangers of throwing objects at buses and is now looking to increase visits, spokesman Linda Farbstein said.
Surveillance cameras could deter crime on buses, Garland said.
Of Metro's 1,400 buses, 100 are equipped with cameras. Metro has ordered 250 additional buses that are equipped with surveillance systems that cost about $8,000 each, she said.
For now, Metro is relying on officers to step up patrols and increase their visibility, Hanson said.
Officers normally guarding the subways are taking the buses from station to station, an easy way to increase visibility, she said. "If something happens on the rail, they can jump off the bus and pop into the rail."
In the future, bus rides will be part of the training for police recruits, Hanson said.
Securing empty buses is just as much of a concern for the union as guarding those in operation, Garland said. "Anybody can get on a bus lot and do what they want on a bus," he said. "We have to get the homeless people off the bus when we pick them up in the morning."
Transit Police officers have always been in cars patrolling bus garages, but last week, the officers were ordered to document their trips, Hanson said.
Canine units also began conducting sweeps of garages and bus turnaround areas this week, she said.
Metro board Chairman Robert J. Smith, who represents Maryland, said Metro can only do so much. "We can't put a police officer on every bus on every route," he said.