By: Fabian Cotter and Ruth McCosker

‘SITUATIONAL AWARENESS’ and ‘de-escalation training’ started by Transport for Brisbane almost a year ago is nearing 100 per cent completion, with thousands of bus drivers recording markedly improved anti-social-behaviour-dealing skills according to surveys from respondents, it’s reported recently.

A Brisbane Transport training initiative over almost a year ago is said to have helped bus drivers better deal with on-board passenger aggression (Photo: Police Media).

As reported on The Brisbane Times newspaper’s website this week, from September 12 last year Transport for Brisbane started situational awareness and de-escalation training and thousands of people who drive Brisbane’s buses received extra training for dealing with angry, aggressive and intoxicated passengers.

The training followed recommendations in Brisbane City Council’s AusSafe report and the state government’s Deloitte Report into bus driver safety, it’s stated.

Both reports followed the death of bus driver Manmeet Sharma, who was killed in an attack while driving a bus at Moorooka in 2016, as widely reported.

During a presentation at the council’s public and active transport committee, a council officer said drivers had been taught about how body language and tone of voice could de-escalate a situation on board.

"The procedures we have in play is if there is a circumstance on the bus the bus operator needs to deal with, we ask them to pull over to the side of the road, in a safe location, to open the front and the rear doors to make sure any potential aggressive or aggressor has the capacity to remove themselves from the bus," they said.

"Sometimes you don’t want to stand up as that may escalate the circumstances, but to engage with the customer and try and calmly defuse the situation.

"If they can’t de-escalate the circumstances themselves they contact the network co-ordination centre and ask for guidance."

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According to The Brisbane Times, the council officer said while bus drivers were expected to collect fares, there were several circumstances where drivers let passengers travel for free.

"We have to ask for a fare ... however, the state policy gives the bus operator capacity to use their judgment," he said.

"If they believe that they personally would be at risk, or the passengers would be placed at risk by continuing to ask for a fare, the bus operator is taught to press the fare evade key and allow that individual to take a seat.

"If the bus operator believes there is a vulnerable person who could potentially be placed at risk by now [sic] allowing them access - a child, someone who might be vulnerable in the dark in a particular area of the city at night - they press the fare evade key and let that person take a seat."

As stated, before the training 70.6 per cent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed they had the ability to de-escalate difficult customer interactions using communication techniques while 26.97 were neutral or disagreed.

After the training 4.56 per cent felt neutral or disagreed and 92.7 per cent strongly agreed or agreed they could de-escalate a situation using communication techniques.

The council officer said it was too soon to see if the extra training led to fewer incidents on buses.

Other recommendations from the reports into bus safety were driver barriers, anti-shatter film applied to bus windows, CCTV, duress and radio, training, customer service cards, incident procedures and recruitment.

All the recommendations have been implemented by Transport for Brisbane, except driver barriers, it’s stated.

Public and active transport chairman Adrian Schrinner said new buses to be delivered in the 2018-19 financial year would have a combination of a narrow barrier and wide barriers fitted.

"Over this year we are rolling out 10 articulated and 45 standard buses ... all of those will have barriers fitted," he said.

"As the year progresses we will be able to get feedback from operators using those buses."

Cr Schrinner said the grants for the rollout across the entire fleet wouldn’t be available until next year.

"We will be applying for those grants this year under the TransLink grant program but the funding won’t be announced for the successful grant applicants until next year," he said.

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