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Survey reveals more Brisbane bus drivers are being spat at

Brisbane City Council data says more Brisbane bus drivers are being spat at despite driver screens reducing physical violence incidents

Data provided by the Brisbane City Council to the Rail, Tram and Bus Union says Brisbane bus drivers are reporting more instances of being spat at and verbally abused throughout the COVID-19 lockdown period.

The data provided says there were 20 spitting offences against drivers reported to the Brisbane City Council in 2021/22 compared to 14 recorded in 2020/21.

Talking on ABC Radio Brisbane, Rail, Tram and Bus Union Secretary Tom Brown says the increased spitting incidents are having a psychological impact on drivers.

“The drivers have to complete a lot of tests and it’s up to a three-month wait for some of them to come back, particularly for results on hepatitis B and C,” Brown says.

“One driver I know of was off work for three months before his test results came back. He simply couldn’t go to work and not only that, he was also isolated from his own family at home until he was clear of saliva-borne diseases.”

Not-for-profit organisation Hepatitis Queensland says viral hepatitis is often misunderstood, with incidents of transmission of hepatitis via spitting being extremely low for Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis Queensland says the incidents of transmission for Hepatitis C from incidents of spitting is zero, while Hepatitis A is largely transmitted via contaminated food and/or drink.

Brown says some drivers say they would have rather been physically hit then spat on.

When it comes to passengers using derogatory remarks, rude gestures or obscene language, those incidents rose from 509 to 561. Cases of extreme verbal abuse also jumped nearly 40 from 87 to 126.

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A further 11 more incidents were recorded in 2021/22 of objects being thrown at bus drivers.

Yet the data also shows that physical violence cases against drivers fell from 18 incidents to nine.

Brown says part of the change in those numbers could be courtesy of all Brisbane buses now having either a partial or fully enclosed screen to protect drivers.

“I’m pleased but I don’t think it’s just the screens,” Brown says.

“It could be the de-escalation training the drivers are doing. It’s also rear-door boarding and because passengers are down due to the pandemic.”

When it comes to solving this issue, Brown says clearing fare evasion and removing free rides is key to ending bus driver violence.

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