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‘It’s very stressful’: Over 80% of public transport workers say they have been target of abuse

Union renews push for dedicated transport police as its members across Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Luas say problems are getting worse

More than 80 per cent of public transport workers say they have been the target of abuse and more than half say antisocial behaviour is an issue for them at least once a week, according to a new survey carried out by Siptu.

The union is renewing its campaign for the establishment of a dedicated transport police as, it says, members across Dublin Bus, Irish Rail, Luas, Bus Éireann, Aircoach and Go-Ahead services say the problems they are encountering in their day-to-day work have been getting worse.

Vanessa O’Keeffe, a driver with Dublin Bus for 17 years, says she loves her job but understands why some new recruits, particularly women – a group the company has worked hard to recruit – walk away due to the stress brought on by dealing with antisocial behaviour, personal abuse or assaults, often on women or minorities.

Ms O’Keeffe says she witnessed a racist assault on two female passengers that left one with serious facial injuries and has had women report men masturbating in front of them on the upstairs deck of her bus and “asking them to do something about it”.


“That and men just coming on to the women. They come down and ask if they can stand close to the cab until the men get off,” she says.

Like many of her colleagues who participated in the survey, Ms O’Keeffe believes the problems have become worse recently, since just before or during Covid, she suggests, with teenage boys the most common source of problems.

“Between drivers getting threatened, them getting on and dismantling the bus, putting bikes in the doors so you can’t pull away, ramming the bus, throwing stones at it or getting in front of it on scooters or just refusing to pay . . . it’s very stressful. Some of the drivers end up having issues with their mental health. They’re thinking: ‘Why do I have to put up with this at my work?’ They don’t want to get spat at or abused, it’s hard enough just getting the bus from A to B safely.”

She says there have been ongoing problems in particular estates, particularly in the evenings and at weekends but says the lack of a greater Garda presence around the heart of the city centre has been an issue too with drug addicts hassling drivers on their breaks as they walk to or from the Dublin Bus canteen off O’Connell Street.

“We don’t carry money, it’s all in the machine on the bus but there’s no talking to these people and one of the drivers was assaulted after he went to buy a coffee and was asked for a couple of euro.”

Ms O’Keeffe says she believes her managers, the company and the Garda take the issues seriously – “there’s been a phenomenal amount of work gone into it” – and the most serious cases are pursued.

Much of the time, she suggests, however, she is powerless to do anything in the face of teenagers or others who believe they can act with impunity.

“You announce over the PA or tell them you are calling the guards and they laugh at you because they know they will take ages to come.

“I am safe in my cab and I have the button that I can get straight through to control if I am in trouble; it’s more about the passengers . . . if stones came in, say, and hit someone, hit a kid.”

Ms O’Keeffe insists the problem will not prompt her to leave a job she hugely enjoys. “I love it. I love meeting and greeting people every single day, there’s no two the same. And it’s like a big family, there’s a great atmosphere, we all motivate each other to go on. It’s modern society, the antisocial behaviour; a lot of the drivers are at their wits’ end.”

She believes some sort of dedicated transport police would be a step in the right direction.

“At the moment the guards can take so long to come,” she says. “People would know they are there and they’d feel safer. Over time, I think the number of incidents would go down.”

Siptu will launch its Respect Transport Workers campaign, which includes the call for policing, and publish its survey results on Tuesday.

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times