DART bus drivers ask tough safety questions

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by STEVE STOLER

WFAA

Posted on February 21, 2012 at 11:26 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 22 at 2:27 AM

DALLAS - DART offered promises Tuesday after three deaths in less than three months.

The agency has started adding 140 uniformed police officers, fare enforcement officers and armed security guards to every train, all day.

But Tuesday night DART bus drivers said they fear they are being forgotten. DART has more than 600 buses, compared to 163 trains.

The bus drivers came to the board meeting with horror stories.

John Ellis said when he told a passenger to turn his radio down, that passenger pushed and punched him. Ellis claims he hit "the button" to summon DART police. When officers arrived 35 minutes later, the suspect was gone and police arrested him.

"But the problem in defending yourself is that you're taking us to jail," Ellis said. "And that's not right. That's not right at all."

His wife questioned board members.

"Tell me what guidelines you've put in place to protect my husband," Brenda Ellis said. "I want him home."
  
DART driver Peggy Jackson said she defended herself against an aggressive passenger. She says a DART officer gave her a citation.

"If somebody punches me in the face, you better know I'm going to punch them back," Jackson said. "And I don't need transit out there giving me a ticket for defending myself."

"What I think you may not understand is, it starts on the bus and filters to the train," said Brandon Barker, another DART operator.

DART Executive Director Gary Thomas says the transit agency is taking steps to make buses safer too. But he admits with 600 buses and 12,000 bus stops in 13 cities, their security force can't be everywhere.

"We have not taken any officers away from our bus routes to do what we're doing on the trains," Thomas said. "That was one of the things I made very clear to the chief. It wasn't what we intended to do. It wasn't our goal. What we needed to do was add people."

A Dallas pastor had a simple, but complicated question for the board. He asked: "How do people get on DART with guns?"

DART started moving officers around Monday, with the goal of placing at least one on every light rail train.

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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