A violent NightRider attack has triggered a renewed bus-industry push for extra resources against alcohol and drug-driven violence.
A Protective Services Officer was bashed and left with face injures after being called to help a nearby bus driver restrain a group of aggressive passengers at Heidelberg about midnight on Saturday.
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Violent attack on PSO
A passenger describes how a Protective Services Officer was thrown to the ground and attacked by a group of rowdy boys who were escorted off a bus.
Bus Association Victoria says up to 200 drivers are verbally or physically abused a year, and the incident shows the need to step up safety with more authorised officers and allowing PSOs to patrol buses, particularly late at night.
The NightRider bus driver had requested PSO assistance shortly after midnight on Saturday as he pulled into a bus terminus on Mount Street due to a number of ‘‘disruptive’’ commuters on board.
Three PSOs, who had been patrolling Heidelberg railway station, and two police officers quickly arrived at the terminus, using capsicum spray to restrain the violent passengers.
But the passengers allegedly attacked one of the PSOs in a ‘‘scuffle’’ outside the bus, a police spokeswoman said. Paramedics took the injured PSO to the nearby Austin Hospital in a stable condition. He has since been discharged.
Bus Association Victoria executive director Chris Lowe said buses had surveillance cameras and duress alarms but needed more authorised officers to reduce the risk of violence.
Only 12 authorised officers patrol the statewide bus network, he said, regularly leaving bus drivers and passengers with no security presence.
Physical attacks on bus drivers have risen steadily from 3 in 2008 to 17 in 2012, according to Transport Safety Victoria data analysed by the Bus Association.
Mr Lowe said laws should be changed so PSOs could patrol buses, rather than only trains.‘‘Buses need better protection,’’ he said.
‘‘Passengers can get highly frustrated by fares and ticketing, and take that out on the driver, but amphetamines and alcohol have a lot to do with it as well.’’
Mr Lowe said operators were researching protective screens or cages on buses as the threat of violence continued to grow.
‘‘We’ve successfully managed not to need those pieces of equipment on buses in Melbourne for many years but society has changed,’’ he said.
‘‘If the government doesn’t put more funding into authorised officers and security, I don’t know how they’ll be able to offer the level of safety expected on the public transport network in the modern era.’’
Police have arrested and questioned a 20-year-old Kangaroo Ground man over Saturday’s NightRider attack. He is expected to be charged on summons.
The attack comes as the Napthine government prepares new laws to increase penalties for attacking emergency services workers including PSOs.Police Association secretary Greg Davies said any ‘‘attack on an emergency services worker is an attack on the community’’.
‘‘Police, protective services officers, nurses or anyone else involved in the provision of emergency services are there for a reason, and that reason is to assist the community,’’ he said.
‘‘If people attack emergency services workers they deserve whatever’s coming to them.’’Under Attorney-General Robert Clark’s plan, people convicted of inflicting serious injuries on police or other emergency workers face an extra year of jail, on top of whatever sentence would otherwise apply.
Assaults causing less serious injuries would attract at least six months’ extra imprisonment, while those convicted of murdering an emergency worker will face an additional five years in jail.
A spokesman for Mr Clark said legislation would be brought to Parliament in coming months.
A Public Transport Victoria spokeswoman said customer and driver safety was a priority for PTV.
"We are continuing to consult with the bus industry and operators about a number of opportunities to maintain and improve safety, such as the installation of bus driver safety screens."