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'We're a target sitting in that seat,' Charlotte bus driver says after co-worker's death

CATS buses remember slain driver Ethan Rivera.
Sarah Delia/WFAE
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CATS buses remember slain driver Ethan Rivera.

Commuters wait ed at the transit center in uptow n Charlotte to board their busses on T uesday, a n unusually warm February day. Some drivers exit ed one bus after their shift s end e d and board e d other s , now as passenger s the mselve s.

Digital messages blink ed across parked buses: " Ma sks r equired , " "N ot in s ervice " and "R IP Ethan Rivera ."

That last message is in honor of 41-year-old Ethan Rivera, a C harlotte A rea T r an ist S y stem bus driver who was shot to death while on duty F eb. 11 . Police say the shooting stemmed from a road rage incident.

Safety concerns for bus drivers is not a new problem. According to CATs, over the past five years, there have been 57 operator assaults and two operator shootings; including the one that kil led Rivera .

In the wake of this shooting, drivers have called for more safety measures. B ut thoug h s afety is on the minds of many bus drivers, it w as understandably difficult to find someone willing to talk on Tuesda y.

One driver told WFAE he’s worried about his safety while on the job but could get in trouble for doing an interview. It was a message repeated five times before anyone w as willing to talk.

Standing outside the transit center near a Burger King, one willing d river sa i d she’s going into her 16th year on the job . She asked W FAE not t o publicly identify her and wore sunglasses and a mask during an interv iew , periodically look i ng over her shoulder to see if anyone was watching. She had only seven minutes to talk before she ha d to catch a bus of her own.

She sa id Rivera's death hit close to home. Here's a t ranscript of her con versation wi th WFAE's Sarah Delia.

Driver: I was very scared. For not just me, but the rest of my coworkers . .. because we're a target sitting in that seat with no protection.

Sarah Delia: And what protection is needed?

Driver: I would say bulletproof windows — bulletproof the bus for the drivers. To me , that’s the only thing . T hey did do a door for us , but they are still coming around, they are still hitting the drivers, spitting on the driver even with the door .

Delia: And is that a shield between you all?

Driver: It's like plexiglass and a bottom door with just the glass. Some of it is short and it's really open, so it’s still really no protection for the drivers.

Delia: What have you experienced as a driver?

Driver: Cursed out a lot, called all types of things and what they'll do to me ... and I immediately call BOCC (Bus Operation Control Center) . Sometimes they'll send someone . S ometimes they don't. So that's scary as well. When you don't get the protection , it's scary.

Delia: So it doesn't sound like you feel safe doing your job right now .

Driver: Right now, no, not at all. Because Monday after (R ivera's ) death, a driver got spit at in the face. That's not safe. So no, a lot of us don't feel safe . A lot of drivers haven't been coming to work , j ust because they don't feel safe.

Delia: What makes you still come to work every day?

Driver: The N o. 1 reason is pay. I still have bills , s o that’s my reason for still coming.

The d river sa id she has conflicting feelings ab out whe ther CATS is taking care of drivers.

Driver: That is up in the air for discussion , d epending on, I guess, what the situation is. Just for CATS to have more of our safety, our backs when it comes to the passengers because the passengers could very well be wrong, but they will fault us. So , they don't really have our back when it comes to the customer service complaints and things like that.

Delia: Is there anything else that Mr. Rivera's death brought up for you as a bus driver?

Driver: Just to be more aware of what's going on around you, even with the passengers. Just be more cautious in what you're doing and who’s around you.

And then the driver 's time wa s up. She looked over her shoulder one more time before leav ing and headed back to the stream of drivers and passengers — everyone trying to find and board their bus safely.

Copyright 2022 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

At this point in her life, Sarah considers home to be a state of mind—not one place. Before joining the WFAE news team, she was hosting and reporting in the deep south in Birmingham, Alabama. In past lives she was a northerner having worked and lived in Indiana, Maine, and New York City. She grew up in Virginia and attended James Madison University in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.